Willard Reaves: “All I wanted was to be a Lumberjack”

Willard Reaves: “All I wanted was to be a Lumberjack”

Willard Reaves with NAU Team Physcian Dr. George Hershey at the Flagstaff Sports Foundation Hall of Fame Dinner

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Former Lumberjack All-American Willard Reaves was inducted into the Flagstaff Sports Foundation Hall of Fame Monday night in a ceremony at the Little America Hotel. For Reaves, it was a special homecoming to receive an honor that culminated a long list of accolades garnered during his career.

"It is called full circle," said Reaves. "I was born here, played grade school, high school and collegiate all sports here. To come back and be inducted into the Hall of Fame in your hometown is a great honor."

Reaves, who was inducted in the NAU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1993, rushed for 2,139 yards in his career, the seventh-best total in school history to this day. He totaled 1,084 yards during his junior season in 1979, becoming the first non-senior to top 1,000 yards in school history. He was named to the All-Big Sky first team following the season and was an Associated Press All-America selection.

Despite his individual accolades, Reaves treasures his membership on the 1978 Big Sky Championship team as his Lumberjack career highlight. The team is still very close and active today.

"(My favorite memory is) our Big Sky Conference championship team and how close we were," said Reaves prior to the ceremony. "Joe Salem got us all ready to do battle every week. To think about what happened in 1978 and have that continue to this day with that team staying in contact is remarkable."

Former Athletic Trainer Mike Nesbitt, who saw most of Reaves' high school contests and all his collegiate games at NAU, remembers his play at NAU fondly. He attended the ceremony Monday night with team physician Dr. George Hershey.

"I remember his quickness, his speed and his coachability," said Nesbitt. "If you ask him to do something, he would do it and he made it look easy. He was accepted by his teammates so well because he was so coachable. The offensive line liked him and the quarterbacks liked him, everybody liked him. When they called a play, he would get it done."

The induction was a homecoming for Reaves, who was born and raised in Flagstaff, and attended Coconino High School in the mid 1970s where he was a three-sport athlete playing football and basketball, and running track. In Reaves senior year of 1976 -77, he was a first team all-state running back, a starter on the basketball team and a state champion in the 220-yard dash. He was also chosen as a High School All-American in football.

"My brother and I grew up going to the games and all I ever wanted to be was a Lumberjack," said Reaves about his college choice. "I did not want to be anything else, not a Trojan or a Bruin. I wanted to be a Lumberjack."

Reaves continued his football career professionally in the Canadian Football League with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, where he was named Western Rookie of the Year in 1983. In 1984, Reaves rushed for 1,733 yards and 18 touchdowns, and was named the CFL's most outstanding player. Reaves played six seasons with the Blue Bombers, setting several club records before playing in the NFL for the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins in 1989.

He still lives in Canada, working for the Manitoba Sheriff Service. His son, Ryan, is a professional hockey player for the St. Louis Blues and his youngest son Jordan is a top-rated prep basketball player.