By Jim Gehman, Player Engagement Insider
Despite choosing to play basketball instead of football at Western Michigan University, Joe Reitz signed as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Baltimore Ravens in 2008. And, well, confidence wasn’t his strongest asset.
“I was just hoping, honestly, to last a week, a month, would I be able to make it a year? Can I carve out a couple-year career? Who knows?” Reitz said.
And who would have known that Reitz, an offensive lineman, would spend nine years in the NFL. Waived by Baltimore, he was claimed by the Miami Dolphins in September 2010. After the Dolphins waived Reitz that same year, his hometown team, the Indianapolis Colts, claimed him and placed on their practice squad. He spent the past six seasons playing for Indianapolis.
However, when the Colts reported to training camp last month, Reitz wasn’t with them. Following the 2016 campaign, he decided to retire and leave the game on his own terms.
“That was really big for me,” Reitz said. “I’ve seen a lot of my friends and colleagues that don’t get to leave the game on their own terms. And that’s tough because a lot of times, guys can still play. But for whatever reason, teams go younger or they go with the cheaper guy.
“And guys might be working out and hoping that (another) team calls. I didn’t want to go through that and put my family through that.
“So, the two things I was able to do: I was able to go out on my own terms, one; and I was able to retire relatively healthy, two; where I don’t need any surgeries or anything like that. And for someone who has had a lot of injuries, that was a big thing for me.”
Reitz is enjoying his first summer free of attending football training camp or basketball conditioning with his wife, Jill, and their four young children: Juliana, A.J., Virginia and Johnny.
“It’s kind of nice to have an August when you can just kind of relax and get your kids ready for school,” Reitz said. “[I haven’t had second thoughts] and that’s what’s been awesome for me and lets me know I made the right decision. I’ve thought about it actually less than I thought I would.
“I know that I’m going to miss the camaraderie and being around the guys and working together towards a common goal, the competitiveness. But I’m also not going to miss the training camp practices when you’re tired, and beat up, and sore, and it’s hot out.
“So that’s something I’m looking forward to. Instead of doing that, I might be able to spend a little more time in the pool with the kids.”
Other than honing his Marco Polo game skills in the pool, Reitz, who has lost 40 pounds since retiring in March, is hitting the books.
“I’m taking classes to get my MBA from Indiana University, the Kelley School,” Reitz said. “That will take me a year or so to complete. Hopefully by that time, I’ll have a good idea of what I want to do. I probably go into some sort of business sector. I’m kind of brushing up, re-learning some things and exercising my mind, so to speak, rather than my body.
“Doing that, and then also explore different business opportunities and still have a commitment to volunteer and service. That’s something I’m very passionate about in the Indy area, serving the community and especially kids.”
Earlier this year, Reitz was nominated by the Colts for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. It recognizes a player for the commitment he has demonstrated in helping others in the community.
“It was a little shocking,” Reitz said. “It’s such a prestigious award. To be associated with the name Walter Payton and the unbelievable player he was on the field and person he was off the field, it was obviously a proud moment for myself and our family.”
One organization Reitz is committed to helping is All Pro Dad, which was founded by former Colts coaches Tony Dungy and Clyde Christensen.
“It’s a great reminder to us men on the things that it takes to be a great husband, the things that it takes to be a great father,” Reitz said. “Kind of the strong, male leadership that we need to provide for our family. I think that’s something that’s lacking, quite frankly, in America. We don’t have enough authentic male leadership and All Pro Dad is a great organization.
Reitz also supports homeless relief efforts in Indianapolis and is involved with the Horizon House.
“I remember a speaker at one of the Horizon House events say, ‘Nobody sets out to be homeless. Through unfortunate circumstances and things that happen, people fall on hard times. They’re good people who just need help,’” Reitz said.
“The things that they’re doing for Indianapolis are great because Horizon House is a day shelter, but they’re not just providing food and clothing, they’re providing on-the-job training, medical care and free legal care. They help them get clothes and suits so they can go out and get a (job) interview. They’re really about getting people back on their feet.”
Although he’s done wearing a helmet and shoulder pads, Reitz will stay involved with the Colts by doing analysis work for the team’s website.
“That’s something I’m looking forward to,” Reitz said. “It will keep me around the game and kind of give me my football fix a little bit so I’m not just going straight cold turkey.”