D.J. Reader had to help himself before he could help his team.
The senior defensive tackle from Greensboro, N.C. wrestled with the decision through much of the summer: Continue playing football and keep struggling or put the game on pause, to work on himself.
Reader chose the latter.
“Just a lot of things I was going through, just from a mental aspect. I really had to step away to get myself prepared to come back,” he said. “I battled back and forth with it the whole month of June.
“August, when I stepped away, it was really bad timing, I know, but it was something that I needed to do, especially to get my mind back on the ball and be the best player that I can be, and help this team, most importantly.
“It was something I really needed to do or it could have been worse than what it was.”
The details of exactly what was going on have been kept quiet by Reader, missed the first six games of the season for what was previously labeled as by the school as “personal issues.”
Game days were the toughest.
“I spent a lot of alone time during that time. Being in the house alone and having to deal with those type of game days, it was really hard on me, especially from not just the mental aspect,” Reader said. “There was nothing, nothing at all I could do. I’d send my guys a text before the game. Other than that, it was really tough. It was tough.”
Reader watched every game at his home in Clemson. A lot of his friends and all of roommates are his teammates.
“It used to make me sick. I would throw up on game days, because I knew there was nothing I could do to control what was going on,” he said. “I used to almost throw up every game day before the game. It was tough for me to watch the game at Louisville. Very tough for me to watch the game at Notre Dame, so it was just being in the house alone.”
Against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, Reader had two tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a 1/2 sack.
In the seven games before Thursday, he had seven tackles. Mostly importantly, Reader is happy to be back on the team.
“I realized how much I missed it, how quickly it can be over if your head’s not right,” he said. “It was great to come back, great to be back around the guys as much as possible. I was around them at school and stuff, but it wasn’t the same as being around them on the field. It’s very comforting to get back out there playing.”