FOXBOROUGH — Trevor Reilly had been cut by an NFL team before, but it still stung when the Miami Dolphins dumped him from their practice squad Oct. 10. He had to move on fast, and the next morning he was on a flight to work out in Detroit.
The Lions were interested in the linebacker, but could not commit. They hoped he would stay in Detroit overnight so they could free up a roster spot and sign him in the morning. The Patriots, meanwhile, maintained interest in Reilly, who had spent half the 2016 season on New England’s practice squad.
Reilly balked at the Lions’ offer, got on a plane, and was signed to the Patriots’ practice squad the next day.
In the two weeks that followed, injuries led to personnel adjustments and Reilly was signed to the active roster Oct. 25. Four days later, in the Patriots’ 21-13 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, Reilly covered the opening kickoff like a heat-seeking missile and tackled Geremy Davis at the 20-yard line.
“This place fits me,” Reilly said. “For a guy like me, I’m looking for a chance and New England, they give guys chances, man. Not a lot of places do that. They don’t play politics. If you can play, they don’t care about contracts, or draft picks, they just want to put the best guys on the roster or on the field.
“It’s a whirlwind and it’s been amazing. I’m really happy to be back.”
Reilly has navigated an unconventional path to arrive at this juncture of his career.
Rather than going to college after graduating from Valley Center High in California in 2006, he participated in a Mormon mission in Sweden. He returned in 2009, de-committed from Texas Tech amid uncertainty regarding former head coach Mike Leach, and went to Utah.
As he prepared for his senior season with the Utes, his daughter, Shayn, was diagnosed with cancer in May 2013. The day after the diagnosis, Shayn underwent surgery to have a tumor and a kidney removed, which was followed by chemotherapy.
“He [was] a very mature kid,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “As off the wall and gregarious as he could be, he’s extremely intelligent. He can handle his business, and is very well grounded in what’s important to him. He had a lot on his plate and handled that as well as it could’ve been handled.”
Reilly, who was married and raised two of his three children while at Utah, focused his attention on Shayn — who is now in remission — and still managed to perform on the football field.
“I needed to play well not only for the team, but I had to put some good film out there to make it to the NFL,” Reilly recalled. “You lean on your teammates and your wife and you’ve got to be a man about it.”
Whittingham, who has kept close tabs on Reilly, considers him one of the most unusual players he has coached at Utah. Reilly is unabashedly quirky and goofy, in contrast to his humble and mature foundation.
During Reilly’s redshirt sophomore season, he misplaced the Under Armour compression shirt he usually wore, so he pulled his shoulder pads and jersey over the golf polo that Whittingham mandated his players wear to games. He then went out and had two sacks, three forced fumbles, one pass breakup, and a fumble recovery in a lopsided victory over BYU, earning Pac-12 Player of the Week honors.
“Actually had my best game in college like that,” Reilly said. “I was an underclassman, needed a shirt, and they wouldn’t give me one, so I said, ‘Screw it,’ and threw on my polo.”
He was drafted by the Jets in the seventh round in 2014, and he drove for Uber in a battered Ford Crown Victoria during the 2015 offseason simply to pass the time between spring workouts.
“That’s one of those things I’ll never forget,” he said. “I had to kill time, so I figured I’d talk to people. I heard people talk [expletive] about the Jets. It was fun, though.”
Reilly turns 30 in January, and by his own admission, “has been able to do some interesting things so far.”
Next on that list is to continue contributing for the Patriots. The coaching staff turned to him to fill a void on special teams after rookie linebacker Harvey Langi was seriously injured in a car accident. Reilly played 46 percent of special teams snaps against the Chargers, primarily on kickoff coverage, and logged three snaps on defense.
The 6-foot-5-inch, 240-pound linebacker was somewhat familiar with the special teams unit from his practice squad stint in 2016, but he still crammed in the days leading to the game. He arrived at the facility at 6:15 a.m., well before team meetings began at 7:45, to put in work with special teams coach Joe Judge and assistant Ray Ventrone.
For the next few days, though, Reilly will spend the bye week in Florida with his wife and three children — a welcome breather from the whirlwind that whisked him back to New England.