Makhi Reed's journey led him to live with grandparents where he is a Minden football star

Jimmy Watson
Shreveport Times

It’s a small thing, really, going unnoticed by the throngs gathered each Friday night in Minden’s The Pit. But to senior lineman Makhi Reed, the glance over his shoulder to see who is in the stands watching him compete in the game he loves more than anything is a very big deal.

While his grandparents are always there, the one person he wants to see, his mother, Jessica Reed, rarely is in attendance.

She lives four hours away and has battled substance abuse issues for a number of years. That battle, however, has not dimmed the love shared by Jessica and her 6-foot-2, 310-pound son who once had a severe speech impediment, was moved to Minden to live with his grandparents and is now deciding between a number of colleges seeking his services.

“I’ve battled (drugs) my whole life. Makhi’s seen me get straight. He’s seen me messed up. He’s seen me get straight with my life together, then get messed up again. I don’t even deserve him as a kid,” said Jessica as she choked up with emotion. “But I’m his No. 1 fan, his biggest fan, his first fan. Me and my son have a bond that I’ll never have with nobody else in this world.”

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Thanks to the willingness of his grandparents to accept him as a middle schooler, Makhi Reed has developed into a college football prospect. He is No. 6 on the Shreveport Times' inaugural Elite 8, a collection of the top college football prospects in the area as selected by the newspaper. He has scholarship offers from Army, Navy, Air Force among others. He recently received an invite from Mississippi State to come for a visit.

He also has a deep love for football.

“I love the violence of it and being able to dictate the game up front,” Reed said. “It’s legal to be violent on the football field.” 

Ward of the state

The Shreveport Times Elite 8 athlete Makhi Reed of Minden High School photographed on July 23, 2022.

The story of Makhi began in 2005 in Mamou, a sleepy town of less than 4,000 sitting in Evangeline Parish where nearly half the population lives below the poverty line.

“Makhi would pretend to tackle someone. He would take a bottle cap off a Powerade bottle, the plastic part, bite it in half and pretend like it was a mouthpiece,” Jessica said. “It would freak me out because I thought he would choke on it.”

At one point, Makhi became a ward of the state and was in and out of Foster homes due to his mother’s absences. 

“There was a court hearing figuring out where to place Makhi, and he was the only person to show up in court,” said his grandfather, Leon Reed. “None of the family members came. When asked where he would stay, Makhi said ‘I guess my dad’s house.’ His stepmom, Melonie Caesar, stepped in and took care of him. She gave him love when he needed it the most. I can’t say enough about that woman.” 

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When he turned 10, Jessica said she was “practically homeless” living in Oberlin with no place to house her growing son, so he went to live with his father in Eunice. He had begun playing Pee Wee football in Oberlin, so his coaches drove 45 minutes to Eunice twice a week to pick him up for practice. Rarely was anyone in the stands watching, despite Makhi’s team winning the league’s “Super Bowl.”

It was about that time that Jessica began losing control of her son. His grades were slipping, and he was running with the wrong crowd. So, she ignored the strained relationship between them and placed a call to her father, Leon, in Minden and asked for help. It was the toughest call she’s ever made. 

“I swallowed my pride,” she said. 

No regrets in this house

Leon and Lynda, who have five girls between them, discussed the challenges of accepting a 13-year-old boy into their home.

“Lynda said, ‘You know if you don’t do this, you will regret it the rest of your life,” Leon said. 

Although there was an adjustment period, Makhi was happy to make the move north after Leon persuaded Makhi’s father to give him guardianship following his seventh grade year.

“It took a while for everybody to get used to everybody, but the town of Minden opened their arms and hearts to Makhi,” Leon said. “He wasn’t exactly thrilled to be here. He was wanting to go back to Oberlin, but there was no one in Oberlin who would take him.”

Grades were an issue initially, since Makhi was accustomed to being satisfied with C’s. Leon said he knew he was smarter and worked the teenager into shape. He now attacks his schoolwork like he attacks running backs coming through the offensive line.  

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Setting himself apart

Minden's Makhi Reed has collegiate offers from Army, Air Force and Navy

Leon rarely misses one of his grandson’s practices.  His favorite “Makhi memory” came during the Huntington game last season. Makhi had sacked quarterback Kamron Evans for a loss and on the next play tackled a runner for a 3-yard gain. The running back yelled in pain and Reed looked down to see his shin bone sticking out the side of his leg. 

“Makhi immediately ran to the center of the field, knelt down, completed the sign of the cross and prayed,” Leon said. “I then saw a streak of crimson running through the sea of white that the visiting players were dressed in. I was thinking Makhi might get tackled because he had just broken the kid’s leg. But he went up to the stretcher and put his hand on injured Raider.

“I found out later that he said, ‘You’ve got this, God’s got you.’ That’s Makhi in a nutshell. He cares about people,” Leon said. 

Best Christmas present

The Shreveport Times Elite 8 athlete Makhi Reed of Minden High School, photographed on July 23, 2022.

Makhi’s speech issue was so pronounced at one point that he’d walk up to a concession stand and coax his mother into ordering for him. A high palate and teeth protruding forward were still an embarrassment when he arrived in Minden, but he couldn’t be added to his grandfather’s insurance because the Reeds only had guardianship. Lynda Reed fought with Medicaid for a year attempting to get the $7,200 cost paid but was unsuccessful.

“Makhi rarely spoke in public and would never smile because of it,” Leon said. “Lynda asked him what he wanted for Christmas one year and he said, ‘Braces, so I can smile.’ That broke our hearts.”

A GoFundMe page raised just $250 so the Reeds decided to pull $3,000 out of savings and pay the remainder on a note. But Dr. Christopher Cosse of Bossier City’s Cosse and Silmon made the reality of braces happen as a Christmas present to Makhi. 

“When Lynda found out she busted out crying and Makhi busted out crying,” Leon said. “Lynda called me sobbing and I thought she had been in a wreck. Once I understood what was happening, I was crying too. It never ceases to amaze me the kindness in the hearts of people. God has put so many great people in Makhi’s path through life.”

With the Crimson Tide opening the season Sept. 2 against Parkway at Bossier High, the story of Makhi Reed is still being written. He started glancing into the stands during his flag football days and the habit has continued.

“I would look up to see if my mom made it the game or if she didn’t. I always played better when she did,” he said. “It just carried on to high school, now I look up at my grandparents before every game.”

Jessica was able to attend just one Minden game last fall, but has pledged to be at every game this fall. That might be a tough promise.

“I’m gonna try like hell. Makhi’s living his dream right now," Jessica said. "He’s been through a (heck of) a lot. And to wake every day with a smile on his face, and to stay positive like he does, just amazes me.”

Jimmy Watson covers Shreveport-Bossier area sports. Email him at jwatson@shreveporttimes.com and follow him on Twitter @JimmyWatson6.