(Malik Reaves was a Second-Team All CAA selection in 2017 and 2015. He is one of the highest rated FCS cornerbacks coming into the 2018 NFL Draft. Recently, Underdog Dynasty’s Jonathan Willis caught up with Reaves and asked him about some of his experiences at Villanova.)
I saw that you played high school football in Jacksonville. What did you like most about growing up there?
I liked the competitiveness of playing football in Florida. Not just Jacksonville, but in Florida, I feel like everyone’s high on football. Everybody’s competitive. Also, we got spring ball. I enjoyed the spring ball. Overall, it was just the competitiveness was always high. There was never a day off. It could be 100 degrees, and we’re still out there working.
It prepares you for college in a way. Just on the competitive side, it shows you how to work hard, how to handle the heat, how to do things like that.
When did you first start playing football? When did you realize that you were good enough to play football at the next level?
I first started playing when I was around six years old. From the first day I stepped on the field it was just something I fell in love with. Coming in, in terms of colleges and things like that, I always knew that I had to go play college football somewhere. I knew I was going to be good enough. It was always just a dream of mine. It was a hope, and I’m happy that it could come true.
Did you have any specific moment that just stood out where you knew you were better than everybody else growing up?
Maybe when I was in Pop Warner. I used to play running back when I was younger, from maybe second grade up until sixth grade. I always touched the ball, and I just felt like nobody could stop me, I was so confident. I didn’t think anybody could get me down, the first tackler could never get me down. Things like that, and I knew at that point that I could keep doing it. I want to go as far as I can with this. I just took it and ran with it.
Of course I don’t play running back now, but I still got moves though.
I know, I saw some of your interceptions, and it looked like you had some moves.
Yeah, I got a couple stepbacks and a couple Eurosteps in.
Villanova’s defense was outstanding last year, and the Wildcats almost knocked off Temple thanks to a great defensive effort. Your defense held Temple to just 16 points. How did you guys feel after the game?
We didn’t really feel good. We go into every game wanting to win no matter who we are playing. We held them to 16, but I wish we held them to less. Wish we held them to zero. We were mad, we were upset, we knew that there were some things we had to fix. We just got back to the grind and worked on it.
But coming into the game, our goal was to blow them out. We don’t care who we’re playing, our mindsets the same. Next game on the schedule, we’re going to have the same mindset.
College Gameday was there when you guys took on top-ranked James Madison. Did you guys feel any different coming into that game?
I’m not going to line, we did feel a little more excited. We didn’t come into the game any different. Like I said, the gameplan’s the same no matter who we’re playing. Of course, there’s a little more buzz going around it because it’s College GameDay. Everyone’s more anxious. They want the week to hurry up, the days to move faster because everybody’s excited for Saturday.
We did a good job overall of blocking out all the hype. We didn’t let the hype take us off track or anything like that. We didn’t talk about College GameDay at practice, we didn’t talk about it in the meeting room, we just treated it like a regular game in our minds. We were just locked in and didn’t let that distract us in any way.
Villanova was considered a top ten team by many people coming into the season, but injuries to QB Zach Bednarczyk and S Rob Rolle stripped the team of two if its leaders. What was it like losing those two guys?
Of course, losing them sucked. You never want to lose any of your teammates, whether they are a starter or a backup. You don’t want to lose anybody. You don’t want anyone on the team to even worry about injuries, mentally and physically.
When we lost them, we just knew we had to come closer together and keep our heads straight, keep our minds right with where we want to go and what we want to do.
I felt like everybody in our secondary was a leader. Everybody was leading someway and somehow. In my opinion, our entire defense was full of leaders. We had great individual leaders and we knew that we had to stay together. Quad (Rob Rolle’s nickname) was always out there at practice, still coaching the younger safeties that were replacing him. Same thing with ZB on the offensive side, he was still helping the quarterbacks get ready every single week. He was still helping them calling the plays.
Everybody’s a leader. We knew that injuries were going to come in the game. Of course, we don’t want them. We just knew that we had to handle them.
You were known as one of most physical cornerbacks in the FCS during your time at Villanova. What type of mentality did you bring into every game?
Extra film. I’ve always been a physical player. I love tackling, I’m not afraid to take on blocks, I’m not afraid of anything.
I feel like coming into the game, I’m a complete player. I can cover, I can tackle, I can play special teams. I can do whatever you need me to do to get the job done. I prepared for every game with extra film. Every single day, spent extra time with the coaches watching film. Taking extra reps at practice every day, even when you’re not in. Just mentally preparing yourself.
I feel like if you mentally prepare, you play faster, you play smoother. You’ve got to study the game extremely well. I feel like if you do that, you’re prepared for every single game.
How was your experience at the East-West Shrine Game? What were the practices like in the leadup to the game? How did it feel to get some hands-on coaching from some NFL guys?
The players I met there were great. Me and the DB’s, we became close quickly. Everybody was positive, everybody was excited. Everybody was ready to go compete. My time there was great.
Learning from those type of coaches, such great coaches, I feel like I was able to learn things that I didn’t know before. Just little tips I got from them. Able to read quarterbacks better, better press-man technique. Things like that.
Every single day you had to bring your game to practice. Everybody feels like they’re the best out there, so every day you have to bring your A game. I wanted to show that even though I’m from Villanova, I can get down with you all.
Was there a specific DB that you were particularly tight with during that week?
While I was there, Linden Stephens (CB from Cincinnati) and Josh Kalu (CB from Nebraska). Josh was my roommate while I was there, so me and him got kind of tight. To be honest with you, the whole secondary was tight. I don’t know, DB’s we’re all the same. It’s easy for us to get together and feel comfortable around each other. We can be ourselves. We’re all tight.
We did a lot. We did a lot of bonding there. We still talk, we got a group chat that we all still talk in.
Have any NFL teams already contacted you or your agent?
Yeah, when I was at the Shrine Game, I ended up talking to all 32 teams while I was there.
Did any of them take a particular interest in you? Did any of the teams show more interest than other teams?
Yeah, there were teams there that I could tell that knew what type of player I was. They saw the film and knew how I played. There were a good amount of coaches that showed interest. You could kind of get a vibe about which coaches were really interested in you and how much they really knew about your team.
Where do you see yourself fitting in at the NFL level?
I feel like I could fit into any team. I feel like I could bring more than just my athletic ability, I feel like I could bring leadership and just a high motor every single day. Be a great teammate, and I can play safety as well.
Were you in Philadelphia when the Eagles won the Super Bowl? What was that experience like?
Nah, I wasn’t. I was in training. I wasn’t here for the parade or anything, but it was cool to watch it. I lived there for four years and they finally got that Super Bowl they’ve been waiting for. Everybody I’m around are Eagles fans, so I hear about them, I see them every game. I see them on the television or even out sometimes, and it was a cool thing to see.
I’m a Jaguars fan, so I’d rather see the Jags in the Super Bowl of course.
What do you like to do in your spare time? When you’re not playing football?
If I’m doing anything not football related, I like to just sit back. I’m a movie person, I love seeing new movies. I’m not really big on the adventure side. I’m a laid back person, I like to spend time with my family and friends and just watch movies. Play 2K and Madden, stuff like that
What’s your favorite movie?
I have two: The Book of Eli and The Notebook.
The Notebook, really?
Yeah, I love that movie.
Tell us something that you think is interesting or unique about you. What sets you apart from everybody else?
My leadership. I can do anything that a coach needs me to do in order to get the job done. I feel like I’m a great team player. I think I’m a good person overall. I feel like people will like me. Overall, my leadership will be the biggest thing I can bring early. Not wait until my rookie year. I can bring that exact same leadership I always have.