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February 1, 2014 at 6:50 PM

Former UW fullback Mike Reed dies at 39 after long bout with cancer

UW fullback Mike Reed can't hold back a smile despite being treated for a minor injury during a game at Husky Stadium in 1996. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)

UW fullback Mike Reed can’t hold back a smile despite being treated for a minor injury during a game at Husky Stadium in 1996. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)

Former Husky Mike Reed, a versatile fullback in the mid-1990s, died Friday in Bakersfield, Calif., after a long bout with a rare form of cancer.

He was 39.

Former UW tailback Terry Hollimon visited Reed in Bakersfield last week. Hollimon said Reed was initially diagnosed with cancer about eight years ago.

“Mike was a great guy, man,” Hollimon said. “He was a real fun-loving, caring guy — a guy I would go to war with any day.”

In his final game for UW, Reed had a 64-yard touchdown run on a fake punt he called during UW’s 51-23 victory over Nick Saban’s Michigan State team in the Aloha Bowl on Christmas Day 1997. That remains a UW record for the longest run in a bowl game.

“Our class was the Class of ’93, and we have an unusually tight-knit group of guys,” Hollimon said. “We were the last class that was recruited by Don James. When we came in, we had an option to all transfer without any penalty. We met as a group of 17-, 18-year-old kids and decided as a group that we were going to stick around and try to win a national championship before we finish.

“And he was integral part of that group. Every time he stepped in the room, he had a smile that would light the place up.”

Although he was undrafted, Reed would spend the 1998 season with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

Born Jan. 6, 1975 in Washington, D.C., Reed “probably traveled farther than any other player has to become a Husky,” his UW bio noted. Reed played high school football in England, where his father, an Air Force sergeant, was stationed. Reed led his team to the European championship, earning MVP honors in the title game after rushing for 221 yards and three touchdowns.

College coaches didn’t notice Reed until late in the process after he spent the final half of his senior year at Tacoma’s Clover Park High School, following his father’s transfer to McChord Air Force Base. Reed arrived at UW as a 180-pound freshman running back, where he became “like a brother,” he once said, with star running back Rashaan Shehee.

Reed and his family spent the past few years in Bakersfield, close to Shehee, where Reed worked with the county sheriff’s office, Hollimon said.

At UW, Reed eventually blossomed into a 220-pound starting fullback. As a junior in 1996, he had 42 carries for 112 yards in 10 games. In 1997, he had three touchdown receptions during the regular season.

Then-UW running backs coach Al Roberts nicknamed Reed and the fullbacks “War Daddies.”

“He said we could never lose a battle on the field,” Reed told The Seattle Times in 1996. “When he said that, I thought, ‘He’s crazy.’ … But then I thought about it. If that’s what he wants, that’s what he’s going to get. And so far, I feel I haven’t lost a battle yet.”

Reed is survived by his wife and four children.

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