ST. LOUIS (WCIA) — Reggie Love III was raised through letters and phone calls. The Illinois running back spent nearly a decade writing letters back and forth to his dad, Reggie Love Jr. When Reggie III was just nine years old, his father was arrested and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Love Jr. still holds onto the hundreds of letters and photos he received.
“When my pops first went away, and my mamma used to say ‘hey your pops on the phone’, and me not even getting the phone yet I’m in tears,” says Reggie. “I’m crying, and the only thing I can say is ‘I love you'”
“I had to watch him grow up in pictures,” says Love Jr. “It was difficult. It was a transition that I had to deal with. That we both had to deal with. I almost feel like I let them down, and I let him down.”
Love Jr. served two years of his sentence at a city jail in St. Louis, where his family was allowed to non-contact visits. Once he was moved to a penitentiary hours away from the city, Love Jr. didn’t see his son in person for eight years. They were only able to speak through phone calls, which only latest 15 minutes at a time.
“Whenever that phone was open, I was on it,” says Love Jr.
“It would be silent for a couple of seconds, and he was like ‘hello son.’ But I never hung up the phone. I either let my pops hang up, or let the call end,” says Reggie III. “It definitely was tough.”
Reggie and his three siblings were raised by their mom, with the help of other family members. Years after his father’s arrest is when the St. Louis native started playing football.
“Football made everything easier for me,” says Reggie III. “Before my pops went away, I wasn’t playing ball, But just hearing my daddy on the phone, like ‘I’m proud of you,’ it just really sat with me for a while.”
But for all the big moments in his career, like winning a Missouri State Championship, and signing with Illinois as a 3-star recruit, he couldn’t share those memories with his dad.
“All my life, especially being the top guy in the programs I played in. He wasn’t around forreal, because he couldn’t, not cause he didn’t want to.”
But on July 9th, 2021, years of long distance came to an end. Love Jr. was released two years early for good behavior, and Reggie was able to hug his dad for the first time in 10 years.
“I just woke up like, ‘my pops coming home today’. I knew this day was coming,” says Reggie III. “And I burst out in tears, like tears of joy.”
“When I seen him and we hugged it was like ‘finally’, and the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders in that moment,” says Reggie Love Jr. “I lost a lot of time, but I feel like it made me a better individual.”
And they’re hoping to make up for the years they spent apart. That’s what makes the rest of Reggie’s college career so important. Love Jr. has never seen him play in a football game.
“Just to witness him play and see the excitement in his eyes, man I’m just thankful,” says Love Jr.
“It brings a different mindset out of me,” says Reggie III. “When pops there to see me for the first time, it’s gotta be the best game you ever played in your life.”
Love Jr. is still serving parole in Missouri, and still working on trying to make it to Champaign for a game.