SANTA CLARA (AP) — Several years back, Eric Reid shunned Jim Harbaugh and Stanford to stick close to home at LSU.
Harbaugh’s aggressive pursuit impressed Reid nonetheless. Fast forward to NFL draft night 2013, and Reid watched Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers make a big move up to make sure they got him this time.
San Francisco selected the speedy free safety with the 18th pick Thursday night after trading up to get the selection from the Dallas Cowboys.
“But this time Eric had no choice,” Harbaugh said with a smile.
When Harbaugh and Reid crossed paths in February at the NFL’s annual scouting combine in Indianapolis, the coach had to razz Reid a little bit about his college choice.
“He tried to torment me for not going to Stanford and choosing LSU, but the story comes full circle that he ended up drafting me,” Reid said on a conference call. “I was born and raised in Louisiana and I bled purple. I still bleed purple and gold, so it was a no-brainer for me to go to LSU. He was actually the only school that recruited me as hard as LSU did. All the other schools pretty much gave up knowing I was an in-state guy, but it said a lot about how much he wanted me to go to Stanford, and I appreciated it.”
In Reid, the 49ers landed their apparent replacement for departed free safety Dashon Goldson, perhaps the biggest need for the reigning NFC champions. 49ers general manager Trent Baalke and Cowboys executive Stephen Jones had worked out details of a potential trade early Thursday, so “it was an easy trade on the clock,” Baalke said.
The Niners came to unanimous agreement on Reid a few days ago — even if they never brought him in for a visit at team headquarters.
“Why would we want to advertise to the rest of the league that we had interest in a player?” Baalke said.
An added bonus: Reid’s mother, Sharon, is a traveling nurse who has regularly worked in nearby San Jose. She didn’t need much convincing this would be a good spot for her son.
Making the move to land a higher pick shows just how much the team believes it could have an immediate-impact player for the 2013 season. Safety was considered a significant need for the 49ers, who lost Goldson to Tampa Bay at the start of the league’s free agency period in March.
Reid played three seasons for LSU and is still considered a raw talent in pass coverage, though he thrives in stopping the run. He could make an immediate impact on kick coverage.
He pointed out that football has become more than a personal achievement but also a way to provide for his daughter, LeLani, who will turn 4 in June.
In 39 career college games with 26 starts over three seasons for the Tigers, the 6-foot-1, 213-pound Reid finished with 199 tackles, six interceptions, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 11 pass breakups and 4 ½ tackles for loss. The speedy defender’s father, Eric Sr., was a three-time All-American hurdler at LSU and NCAA champion in the 110-meter hurdles in 1987.
“It really stands out,” Harbaugh said on the team website. “He believes that he’s a winner all the way and champion kind of guy and football player. I can’t wait to have him here in our home in Santa Clara. I’m sure he’s excited to have the process start and know the team that wanted him the most.”
The two-time defending NFC West champion Niners gave up their selection at 31st overall to the Cowboys as well as No. 74 in the third round. San Francisco has 11 remaining picks.
As with any player in Harbaugh’s system, Reid will have the chance to become a starter if he wins a job in training camp.
“He’ll have the license to be. He’s got the ability to be,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a meritocracy. We have excellent football players on our roster that have been working extremely hard. But there’s no question there’s quite a bit of competition at the safety position.”
Harbaugh recruited Reid to Stanford before taking the 49ers job in January 2011. The coach said Reid would likely arrive at team headquarters Saturday, and Reid expected that, too.
“According to his mother, who is a very honest person, she said this is where she wanted to see Eric and this is where Eric wanted to be,” Harbaugh said. “Wonderful, wonderful, very happy about it.”
The 49ers are building a roster they believe can return to the Super Bowl and win it this time. San Francisco lost 34-31 to Harbaugh’s big brother, John, and the Baltimore Ravens on Feb. 3 in New Orleans.
The Niners are expected to add depth to a depleted defensive line after losing nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois in free agency.
“The excitement’s in the air. It has been all day,” Harbaugh said. “A lot of the angst, if you will, has not really been in here, in our building. It’s been an air of excitement. You watch it unfold and you get one of the players that you really wanted and excited to add more.”
Reid became just the second LSU safety to be selected in the first round, joining LaRon Landry, who was taken in the opening round by Washington in 2007.
Now, he is eager to join an established defense with a secondary led by veterans Donte Whitner and Carlos Rogers.
Considering they are coached by Harbaugh, Reid has paid attention.
“I definitely watched them because they have an incredible defense,” Reid said. “These guys are just phenomenal players, you name it. They’re the reason they got to the Super Bowl. I look forward to getting to California and helping them get back to the Super Bowl.”