Respect For Joe Reitz All Around Colts Locker Room: "To Me, He's A Franchise Guy"

Intro: Playing at a high level in 2015, Joe Reitz’s presence has been vital on the field this season, just like it always has off the gridiron.

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INDIANAPOLIS – Sitting with his girlfriend at the 2007 Mid-American Basketball Tournament in Cleveland, Lionel Vital was captivated by No. 42 in gold.

The 6-7, (then) 245-pound bruiser for Western Michigan was playing the wrong sport, Vital thought.

No, it wasn't because his basketball game was lacking. No. 42 was an All-Conference player, who is still one of WMU's all-time leaders in points and rebounds.

Vital, who was then a scout for the Baltimore Ravens, was marveling at the footwork and physicality for a player who carried 245 pounds quite well, at 6-7.

Following the MAC Tournament, Vital called WMU head coach Steve Hawkins, bound to find out more about a player he believed could play professional football.

Coach, No. 42, Joe Reitz, does he have a football background?

"Your eyes are not deceiving you," Hawkins told Vital.

How Reitz was playing basketball, like a football player, is what Hawkins loved in his durable and productive big man.

Nowadays, you rarely see two-sport high school athletes play at the level Reitz did at Hamilton Southeastern (All-State in both basketball and football).

Whereas some coaches might not enjoy the thought of their prized basketball recruit playing football, Hawkins absolutely loved it.

"I love football players," Hawkins, who is now in his 13th season with the Broncos, says. "We play a very physical brand of basketball and so (Reitz playing football) actually did nothing but get me more excited. You could tell that he was a football player when he stepped on the basketball court because of how physical he was.

"He's a really tough, hard nosed, physical player and we talk here about trying to turn the basketball court into a football (field). He was a perfect fit for us."

Hawkins admiration for Reitz the player was only topped about how he felt about Reitz the person.

The first interaction Hawkins had with Reitz is when the All-State tight end from Fishers came on a football visit to WMU.

Assistant basketball coach Clayton Bates coaxed Reitz over to touring the basketball facilities for an unofficial visit.

Even though Hawkins hadn't seen Reitz on the court, the first impression was lasting.

"I fell in love with him right away, as a person," Hawkins says.

"Looking at (Bates), after (Reitz) left his visit, I said, 'I sure hope that kid can play because I love him as a kid.'"

Once Hawkins finally got a look at Reitz the basketball player, it matched what he thought of him as a person.

Reitz started 126-of-128 career games for Hawkins and was named All-Conference in three of his four seasons.

While obtaining a degree in finance, Reitz gave Hawkins a reliable post presence and invaluable leadership.

"It was unbelievable," Hawkins said of Reitz's leadership.

"He came in as a freshman starting with everybody else who were returners. It didn't take him long to gain all of the returning players respect because of how hard he played."

The MAC Tournament of Reitz's junior year is when the chatter began to pick up about the 245-pound power forward possibly pursuing professional football.

Reitz's concentration was on completing his basketball career at WMU, but the scouts were flocking to Kalamazoo, Michigan to see what the Ravens had first witnessed.

As Reitz's senior season came to a close, the allure of playing in the NFL was too good to say no to (and also knowing that 6-7, below the rim, centers don't flourish in the NBA).

The Ravens signed Reitz as an undrafted free agent in 2008, quickly moving him from tight end to the offensive line.

Trying to transform his body into an NFL offensive lineman was no easy task, much like attempting to block All-Pro defensive lineman Haloti Nagta in practice during those early days in Baltimore.

By his third season in the NFL, Reitz was up to 310 pounds, with the weight properly distributed and comfortable (from a playing standpoint).

While the Colts eventually pounced on a chance to sign Reitz early in 2010 (two years after he left WMU), Hawkins gives the Ravens plenty of credit for their initial patience.

"I think they also saw the special person they had in Joe and that this guy could blossom," Hawkins says of the Ravens. "It's one thing to have the talent to do it, but it's another thing to have the mentality. You don't have to be around Joe very long to realize he has both."

The award is an annual recognition for courageous play by an individual and Reitz is one of 32 players who earned the accolade. Highlights from Joe's career with the Colts! (2011-Current)

With the Colts, Reitz has defined the term "Swiss Army Knife" across the Colts offensive line.

He's started 19 games at left guard. Four more at right tackle. He's been the guy at right tackle eight career times. Most recently, Reitz has started the past two weeks at left tackle.

At the age of 30, Reitz is playing at arguably the highest level of his career after re-signing with the Colts back in March.

Colts teammates clearly think highly of Reitz, naming him the team's recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award, given for courageous play by an individual.

"The way that he treats his wife, the way that he treats hid kids, the way that he approaches the job is kind of the way I want to be in the future," Coby Fleener says of Reitz.

When the 2015 season comes to a close, people will look back at the most important free agent signings for the Colts.

Reitz's name will be near the top.

His journey to playing at this level is Hollywood-like, for a teammate (and guy) who is adored inside the Colts locker room.

"Really, to me, he's a franchise guy," fellow lineman Hugh Thornton says. "This is the kind of guy that you want to have in your locker room to influence your players on the field, as well as influencing when you are not at work.

"If you asked me to say one bad thing about Joe, I honestly couldn't say it. That's Joe Reitz for you."

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