AIKEN - It's appropriate that the leader of a smothering defense is a snake lover.
Aiken linebacker Jamal Reynolds, rated one the top 50 high school players in the country by SuperPrep magazine, would probably rather catch snakes and take care of them than play football. While most people own dogs or cats, Reynolds cares for snakes.
Reynolds is currently grooming a Burmese python to take to Aiken High for show-and-tell.
"It's a baby right now," Reynolds said. "It's only about 2 feet long. I'm powder feeding it two or three times a week to make it grow faster. I'm not going to bring it (the phython) yet. I just got it. I'm going to bring it to school at the end of the year."
Reynolds is not sure where his love for snakes and snake hunting came from.
Teammate Neely Page said a lot of people think his teammate is shy but that's not the case. Page said Reynolds is very talkative and particularly about his favorite pastime - the slithering creatures.
Page can only shake his head and smile when asked about Reynolds' love for snakes.
"Jamal is crazy," Page said. "He's definitely one of a kind."
In a way, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound specimen is grooming his python in his own image - big, strong and vicious when he has to be.
"Jamal is a nice young man who is just a terror on the football field," Aiken coach Carey Johnson said.
Johnson said he and the team joke with Reynolds all the time about his love for snakes. At one time, Reynolds had nine domestic snakes - black snakes, corn snakes and king snakes - that he kept in different aquariums before selling two of them and setting the rest free.
Reynolds is in the process of acquiring a 6-foot-long, Nile Monitor Lizard.
Johnson has told Reynolds that zoology, with an emphasis on herpetology, a branch of zoology with a specialty in amphibians and reptiles, may be in his future.
"We're always ragging him about it," Johnson said. "But I've told him, he should really consider becoming a (herpetologist) or something the way he likes snakes. He should see of the schools recruiting him which one has the best (herpetology) program."
Reynolds, who is arguably the best football player in the state of South Carolina, is looking at such powerhouses as Florida State, Alabama, Notre Dame, Penn State, Florida and Clemson.
In tonight's season opener at Sumter, Reynolds will move from defensive end to inside linebacker to take advantage of his enormous skills.
Athletics and Division I sports go hand-in-hand in the Reynolds household. Dad, Bill Reynolds, was a defensive tackle for South Carolina State from 1969-73 under legendary coach Oree Banks. Reynolds finished his playing days one year (1974) before current South Carolina State coach Willie Jeffries took over.
Jamal's older brothers have college football experience. Diron Reynolds was a linebacker at Aiken High and Wake Forest (1989-94) and is the linebackers coach at Brookland-Cayce High School. Rashad Reynolds played on the 1992 Aiken state title team. He's a backup redshirt sophomore linebacker at Rice, which opens its season Monday against UNLV.
Keisha Reynolds is a senior at South Carolina who throws the shot put and discus on the track team and is a forward on the Gamecock basketball squad.
His mother, Tippi Johnson, was a standout basketball and track and field athlete in high school.
Potentially, Jamal's size, strength, speed, smarts and lateral quickness could make him the best Reynolds of all. Last year, he recorded 125 tackles and 6.5 quarterback sacks from his defensive end position even though teams tended to run to the opposite side of the field.
Sometimes, the Reynolds family may feel like running from their youngest son's hobby. Jamal once made Rashad's girlfriend cry and run out of the house when he threw a fake snake on her.
Bill Reynolds once made him kill a rattlesnake that he caught. It was too dangerous to keep around.
"I'm not really into snakes but (Jamal) is," Bill Reynolds said. "I'm not going to have anything in my house I'm afraid of. I learn as much about them as he does. They don't eat a heck of a lot and you won't have anything (bugs, roaches) crawling around the house.
"If you don't like snakes, don't come to the Reynolds house."