Michigan Panthers RB Reggie Corbin, 27, led his team in both rushing (519) and kick return yards (296) last season. Unbeknownst to many, the Maryland native managed to make a major impact while playing through a severe hamstring strain. Corbin, who has now fully recovered, opens up about his love for the game, how Meek Mill and the TV sitcom Friends helped him through dark times, the lessons he’s learned from his first USFL season, and how the Michigan Panthers will be different this year.
The 2023 USFL Season kicks off on Saturday, April 15 and Sunday, April 16 with four exciting match ups, including a Sunday afternoon showdown you don’t want to miss between the Michigan Panthers and Houston Gamblers at 12:00 PM ET on NBC and Peacock.
RELATED: Road to the 2023 USFL Kickoff – Case Cookus talks recovery, relationships, and more
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
NBC Sports: Tell me about your sports background. I know you grew up playing basketball but how did you get your start in football?
Reggie Corbin: I played football as a kid and early on I was the type of player that if you gave me the ball three times, I was probably scoring twice. Everyone that knew me, knew that I was in love with the game. My dad was a huge basketball player though so I took up his love for the game and we just started to focus on basketball. I always trained in the mornings with my dad for basketball, never for football.
I went to Gonzaga College High School for basketball–it’s one of the best schools in the country. My dad told me one day, “Look, football is your true gift. This is what you were born to do so you need to at least play. ” Originally, I was against it but he was basically like, you’re either going to play or go live somewhere else. I went out there and did really well for freshman football. I was the point guard that played running back and everyone truly couldn’t believe it.
My sophomore year of high school, during my first varsity game, I don’t like using this word, but I blacked out. I can remember every other game in my career but I can’t remember that one. I think I had like 5 carries and three touchdowns and like 120 yards. It was amazing. That’s when I knew this is what I’m supposed to do.
Did you grow up watching any NFL teams or were there any specific players you looked up to?
Corbin: I always loved Barry Sanders. I was just amazed at the things he could do and I felt that [his style] was super similar to me. I loved Marshawn Lynch for his attitude. There weren’t really running backs that I watched. Once I got to high school, I watched guys like Tavon Austin and De’Anthony Thomas but I never truly watched running backs so that might explain why I don’t necessarily play like a traditional running back.
Would you say it was that high school game that made you want to become a professional athlete or did you have that dream from an earlier age?
Corbin: Well before that, I thought I was definitely going to the NBA. 100%. You couldn’t tell me or my dad otherwise. But once I felt that feeling towards football, all of that was out the window. I knew this is what I was meant to do. It didn’t stop there, it kept going. I felt that feeling before when I was a kid. My friends would ask me how I was so good at the sport–guys just couldn’t tackle me, I could juke–I didn’t know what to say other than God loves me. People would laugh and think I was joking, but I meant it.
Playing football felt like me putting the last piece of a puzzle in. I feel so complete with the ball in my hand. It’s unreal and it’s the happiest thing I’ve ever experienced. I feel that way every time I go out there. I fall in love with the game all over again.
What led to your decision to play football at the University of Illinois?
Corbin: What’s crazy is that right before that I ended up playing Rugby in high school and being one of the top players in the country. Our team went to Italy and Chile and believe it or not, I wanted to go to the Olympics. I still plan to do that at some point after I’m finished playing football.
When I went to visit Illinois, I saw a RB there named Josh Ferguson and we had the exact same style of play. He was a beast. Every team at the time loved him. For me to have an opportunity to play at a school where their running backs were historically good was just a no brainer. I also loved the coaching staff there. It’s crazy because they got fired the week before the first game. I went through a lot there, but it ended up working out. I’m just happy I went there. I loved the school, the fan base won me over, and the culture among the guys was just unreal.
I remember during my visit the guys were having rap battles in the locker room with flashing lights. I just knew I wanted to be apart of [that culture].
How did your time there shape you into the athlete and person you are today?
Corbin: My time there really showed me to have fortitude. When you go through things, keep going. Don’t give up. It’s easy to be gifted and great when everything’s going well. We can all do that. But it’s about separating yourself. When the tough times comes, that’s when you really achieve greatness. Illinois gave me both and I’m grateful for it.
Corbin: It’s a lot of pressure for sure but I love that. I thrive in those situations. You know the type of pressure the Lakers and the Cowboys get? I fiend for that. That’s the type of environment I want to be in. It’s fun because you have a group of guys that are all special–they’ve all had Big Ten offers–but even outside of football they’re special individuals. You get to be around each other 24/7 and develop relationships. These are the guys that end up being in your wedding and things like that. I was fortunate enough to have my best friend from high school, Richie Petitbon, transfer from Alabama and be my roommate. He helped me love Illinois a lot more.
I love that! So take me back to the 2020 draft, you just wrapped up your senior season at Illinois, were you expecting to get your name called?
Corbin: 110%. If someone would have told me I wasn’t getting drafted, I would have them they were crazy. I thought at the very least, if I didn’t get drafted, I’d make it to rookie mini camp but with COVID-19, that didn’t happen.
Did you watch the draft? What do you remember thinking and feeling?
Corbin: Oh, I watched everything. I remember taking a walk after that and being just heartbroken. My dad was heartbroken too but in the back of our minds we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. When you say you want something special and you pray for it, it’s not going to be easy. That would have been the easiest path, but I had a feeling that it wasn’t going to happen. But that’s been the story of my entire life. Nothing has been easy and nothing has been given to me.
I was prepared for it. The difference between guys like Kobe Bryant and other guys in the NBA that were super talented was their mentality. If you can’t dig yourself out of a hole, you’ll never achieve what you want to achieve because adversity is going to come. I gave myself about 20 minutes to soak in it.
But this is what I mean when I talk about separation. I know what’s for me and I know what’s for my life. There are a lot of people that probably gave up that day, but I wasn’t going to be one of them. I trained every day for a year and when I got the chance to go to Canada for the Canadian Football League, they saw me and were in disbelief that I sat out for a year. I was in great shape. The opportunity in Canada didn’t work out but I got another shot to workout with HUB Football, and they also were shocked that I had been sitting out for so long.
But I knew, if I was going to have that time to work on myself, it would be over. I trained every day. Who I was in college isn’t even close to who I am now and I felt like God was preparing me for what’s going to come.
You talked about working on yourself for that year and half, what exactly did that look like?
Corbin: Eating right. I’ve trained with five people since I’ve been out of college. I’m surrounded by a great team, but honestly it’s all about just being consistent. Within a year, there’s going to be days when you don’t feel well, COVID was going on, so there were times that I had to train by myself but I just never stopped. I learned to do quality work because all work isn’t good work.
Continue to demand more from yourself!
— Reggie Corbin (@ReggieCorbin) February 22, 2023
Fast forward to February 2021, you sign with the BC Lions (Canadian Football League) then get cut later that summer – what was that experience like?
Corbin: I got the chance to be in Vancouver. I’m so positive about everything so I was ready to give my all to BC. I had a really great training camp. I didn’t have any drops. But they knew exactly who they wanted before I went over there, no knock to them but, I just wasn’t the guy that they wanted. I was kind of caught off guard because I was getting such great feedback from the coaches, but it is what it is because that was God working in mysterious ways, so I’m grateful for that experience.
How did that workout at the HUB come together?
Corbin: I saw it on Twitter and messaged my agent at the time and he thought I should try it. I dominated when I was out there. I had a lot of scouts come up to me. I was the only running back that was kind of motioning out to receiver and showing what I could do. Luckily, the RB coach there was Kirby Wilson who went to Illinois. As soon as I found that, I remember thinking ‘God is good’. Here I was a little upset about Canada but now I felt refreshed. I knew something was coming.
I had a great performance there and then two weeks later the Seahawks called and then COVID happened.
How did you end up in the USFL?
Corbin: The USFL never called me. I knew I was in the draft. I was just watching thinking I would go to the Pittsburgh Maulers because of that Kirby Wilson connection. He went to Illinois and I had just worked out for him. He loved me. We kept in touch. So when he drafted a Michigan and Wisconsin guy, I was so furious. He knows this, I tell him all the time. Then somehow, I had never talked to a team. All my friends had talked to teams before this and I’m thinking to myself, I’m not going to get drafted.
The second to last pick, Michigan drafts me. I didn’t even know who was over there. All I know is that they drafted Shea Patterson first and I knew him from Canada so I’m like okay, whatever. Two or three hours go by and I’m thinking maybe it’s just not real. I’m sitting there and I’m mad about it and one of my friends called me to say congratulations and I’m like “What are you talking about? There’s two picks left and I didn’t get drafted” He goes “You just got drafted by Michigan” and then it popped up on my phone.
Afterwards, I start training outside and two hours go by and no one calls me. I didn’t hear from the team. Then luckily, Coach Eric Marty [the offensive coordinator] called me. I remember telling him on the phone, “This is the best decision you made. You have no idea. The guy that you watched on tape is not even close to who I am now.”
You had an incredible first season, led your team in both rushing and kick return yards – How would you sum up your first USFL season in one word? Why?
Corbin: Definitely fortitude. 100%. It wasn’t as simple as people think. There was a lot that happened behind the scenes. I thought I had an amazing camp. I was breaking runs and doing everything you saw during the season but then I ended up hurting my hamstring. I’ve played through injury before but I played all of this season hurt. I was probably [operating] at about 60% and people couldn’t tell. I was going through that and for the first game I was inactive.
When I found out, I went to Coach Marty and just had a conversation–but I understood why I wasn’t playing that week, I was injured, I rested. For Week 2, I found out on Twitter that I was inactive again and I was upset to the point that I wanted to leave. I talked to the tight ends coach and he encouraged me to talk to Coach Marty. Our coaches have an open door policy, as long as you’re respectful they won’t keep anything from you.
I spoke with him and he explained to me why I wasn’t playing. We had our talk. It went really deep. For Week 3, I got a call from him the day before the game and he told me he needed me to play. At this point, I was pissed. I was still being respectful and a great teammate but I told him, once you give me this opportunity, be ready.
That game against the Maulers I think I had like 100 and something yards. After the game, I just shook his hand and looked him straight in the eyes and didn’t say anything and he just smiled. After watching me, he gave me the opportunity to play and every game I tried to capitalize on that but I played hurt the entire time. I wasn’t going to show that I was hurt or couldn’t run full speed because at the end of the day if you really want to be great, you have to battle through.
People want to be great and talented when it’s easy, but when tough times come you have to look within yourself and figure out who you really are. I thrive on those moments.
I was pissed that we lost as much as we did but I’m glad that we went through what we went through. We made some changes and I think moving forward we’re going to be really freaking good.
Reggie Corbin is GONE! 💨
88 yards to the house to give the Panthers the lead.
(via @USFLPanthers, 📺: @FS1)pic.twitter.com/61K1DvebtG
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) May 7, 2022
What was the exact hamstring injury you dealt with?
Corbin: I strained my hamstring … Anyone that put there hand on my leg and felt it, wondered how I was even able to play.
Did last season go as you expected it to go?
Corbin: Team wise and personally, no. It didn’t. I wanted to be healthy every single game. I know if I could play at 100% it would have been completely different. That’s what I want to be able to put on tape to show teams. If teams see my tape now and don’t love it, they have no idea what I’ve even been through [physically] to be able to play.
The 88-yard touchdown run I had against the Stars, I was really running on one [good] leg. I really want to be able to show people what I can do. That’s the frustrating part, you train so much and you really want to be able to put your best work on tape. Luckily, I was still able to play well and help my team win but it’s definitely frustrating and the season didn’t go as planned in any shape or form. Its all good. It’s part of God’s plan and I have to keep going.
What did you learn about yourself last season?
Corbin: I don’t think I learned anything I didn’t know about myself already. I truly try to take myself in the deep waters every time I train. People ask me what I focus on when I’m working out but once you get to a certain level of skill, there are certain days where you have to work on your mentality a lot. I pride myself on taking myself into those deep waters and figuring out who I am every time. I thrive on that.
You were drafted by an XFL team, the San Antonio Brahmas, in January – how close were you to signing with them? What led to your decision to come back to the USFL?
Corbin: What’s crazy is that I didn’t know. I was driving and my phone rang, I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t answer. Then I get a text saying “Hey this is the OC for an XFL team”. I called him back and he started congratulating me. I was like “What are you talking about?” and then he told me I was drafted the night before. I didn’t put my name in the pool so I don’t know how I was drafted but I said thank you. He told me they wanted me to come play and I told him I needed time to think because my whole mind set was focused on going back to the USFL.
I took a few days and Hines Ward [the current head coach of the San Antonio Brahmas] actually called me later on that day to tell me he wanted me to come play and compete for a job. It was really great to hear but I knew I couldn’t really deal with that level of uncertainty at this point. I’m 27. This is one of those make-or-break years. What if I go over there and we run and offense that doesn’t necessarily fit me? I knew what I would be getting with the Michigan Panthers. I know we have a great O-line, really deep talent. I know the playbook. I really like our offensive coordinator. I love our quarterback, our receivers, and tight ends. I just knew what I would be getting.
If I went [to the Brahmas] and we end up having a worse season than we had last year it would have been the dumbest decision in the world because I know I’m at least going to have an opportunity to play with Michigan. I also prayed about it and the opportunity felt kind of rushed. They were calling me just a week before.
The XFL seems great though. A lot of my friends are in that league but I had to go with what’s for certain right now.
You talked about being 27 and having this be a make-or-break year for you. How will this season be different for you?
Corbin: I just have to be healthy and play hard. The rest of it will take care of itself. What God has for me, is for me. I’m going to continue to play hard, be a great teammate, and try to help win every single game. I just feel like it’s time.
How are you feeling physically? How’s the hamstring?
Corbin: I feel great. Phenomenal now. Right after the season I felt great. I was prepared to go forward to an NFL camp and everything.
How will the Panthers be different this year?
Corbin: We’ll be completely different. We’ve had time to really go over what happened last year. We were always one play away and that was annoying. The missed field goal, the two-point conversions, the fumbles. Our passing game was really frustrating to the team. In practice, we would go days without dropping the ball. We were just 100% on everything. In the game it didn’t translate all the time and that was frustrating for the guys. I wanted to just have a 60-yard bomb so we could all feel good about it. I wanted it so bad for them because they work so hard for it. We truly have a quarterback that fits exactly what we need as far as the team right now. We have an offensive coordinator who is insanely dedicated. If only you guys knew… football is all he does.
He’s made adjustments that will take us to the next level. Coaching wise, it’ll be great. We learned from two big name guys last season. We got to take the good from Coach Jeff Fisher and now we get to learn from another guru. We also have all of this talent being brought in so I know for a fact our team got a lot better. I’m excited to see the defensive line. I told them “you guys better not hit me in practice”, but I can’t wait for them to see them hit someone else. I’m going to be so hyped up. Our kickers and punters also got a lot better.
It’s going to be completely different all the way around especially since we’ll be in Detroit and we’ll have people cheering for us. That’s going to be amazing! If it’s anything like what Birmingham had last year–they had fireworks as they were coming out of the locker room–it was crazy. This season will be completely different and I think it’s something Detroit will be proud of and I think all the guys on our team will reap the benefits of it.
You guys have a new head coach, Mike Nolan, have you started getting to know him already?
Corbin: Yeah, we had a conversation on the phone. I heard the way he wants to run things and I love what I’m hearing so far. I think it’s going to be a great experience. Having a guy that’s defense oriented like that just gives us more opportunities.
Can you give us a sneak preview? How exactly does he want to run things?
Corbin: Our conversation was just about being more efficient in practice, honestly. I told him about some of the things we went through last year and what our schedule was like. It was tougher on us because we had the afternoon practice. I was telling him that the teams that made the playoffs practiced in the morning, so we need to practice in the morning. We joked around a bit but we talked about how to be a pro, being efficient, and how he likes to do things. He knew a lot he just wanted to see what I was going to say.
Do you communicate with your teammates at all during the offseason to stay connected?
Corbin: I talk to Josh Love like every other day. I mess with him all the time. I’m really close with Joe Walker. Last year, I was really close with the O-line but we have a lot of new offensive linemen so I know I’m going to be close with them for sure. The receivers. Lance [Lenoir], isn’t here anymore, but we talk 24/7. I talk to Stevie [Scott] all the time. My best friend from college, Jamal Milan, is playing defensive line now so we talk all the time. He’s nervous, he’s got his first-year jitters and I’ve been telling him he’s going to be perfectly fine.
I talk to the guys as much as I can because we’re all on different schedules. We have our little meetings and everything because like I said earlier, our offensive coordinator is crazy–in a great way. He definitely kept us together. I would rather have that than trying to motivate a guy to work hard.
You’ve talked about getting to play in front of a home crowd, having a new coach, and being physically healthy. What else are you excited about for this season?
Corbin: I am excited to be in Michigan. When I played [in college] against Michigan State, going against those fans–you could tell their passion for the sport and for their schools and teams. I scrolled past a Detroit Pistons post the other day and even though that team isn’t playoff ready, the fact that everyone is still out there supporting them like that is huge. I’m excited to have even a fraction of that support and I think [the fans] will be really proud.
The best thing about it is the last time the Michigan Panthers were there, they were really good. I’m excited just for all of it. I’m trying to keep myself calm.
You’ve had a lot of really good opportunities that haven’t unfolded the way that you expected them to. I can imagine that after seasons of disappointment, it’s hard to get excited again or trust – How have you dealt with that and how do you stop yourself from thinking too far ahead?
Corbin: I stop myself now from creating my own plan. When you always have a plan, things never unfold that way so I just stopped doing that. When it comes to disappointments, you just have to be tough. I fall in love with the game over and over again. It’s hard for people to understand but I truly do.
The reason I knew basketball wasn’t for me was because I would have to wake up at 5:30 AM to be in the gym with my dad by 6:00 AM. He would tell me that I had to make 500 shots before I could go to school and I couldn’t be late so I had to figure it out. It was kind of dreadful after an hour or so. It would be painful. But when I go to the football field, I could be there all day–no phone, no nothing–and be in heaven the whole time (as long as my legs don’t hurt). The fatigue sets in, but in my heart it’s the happiest place and the only place I want to be. That’s how I knew. Every time I go out there, when I put my gloves and go catch the ball, it feels really good. It’s like having great food. It’s amazing and it hits me every single time. I start smiling.
The tough times can’t possibly outweigh my love for the game and my love for the game is unreal. I love learning and being able to know things–what the quarterback is doing–everything. My love for the game outweighs all the bad times. I love it so much and I just can’t picture myself doing anything else. That feeling I get, I can’t find it anywhere else.
When I go through stuff, all I have to do is pick up a ball and that’s it.
I love your passion for the game. What are your career goals? Is the NFL still the goal?
Corbin: Of course. I’m not working this hard just to not play in the NFL. But yeah, 100% I know that’s what’s for me. I train with guys in the NFL and they’re always so surprised that I’m not in the league. That reassurance obviously makes you feel good but I know as long as I keep going, what’s for me is for me and I just have to control what I can control. When I get my shot, I’ll have to make it count.
Have you had any more opportunities or conversations with the NFL since?
Corbin: Yeah, I heard from a bunch of teams. I don’t want to put any specific teams out there but I thought I was going to a few different teams, week, after week during the season. There was a team that told me that I was next up the whole year and then ended up bringing in a different guy. But that’s just how the cookie crumbles sometimes.
But who knows what could have happened. I could have gone to rookie mini camp and then been cut with no tape. So I’m grateful for what happened. It’s all part of God’s plan and I have no bitterness towards it but I’m definitely going to be pissed. That’s just who I am and how I play–I take everything personally to a certain extent. I definitely take that personal and I can’t wait till I get my chance.
KaVontae Turpin, last year’s USFL league MVP, got signed to the Dallas Cowboys and went on to have a Pro Bowl Season. Does seeing that provide inspiration to you and the other players in the league?
Corbin: Heck yeah. Seeing him get that opportunity was amazing and really all the motivation in the world. Turpin definitely is a success story and I congratulated him immediately. I’m so happy for him. He played his butt off.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned along your journey and what would you tell your younger self?
Corbin: Keep God first. You can’t depend on anything 100% apart from God. Also when it gets tough, stay the course. Luckily, I have so many people watching over me that have instilled that in me.
I want to talk about some of those people that have been there for you. Can you tell me about your mom?
Corbin: I was 12 when she passed away. It was 2008. When I was 11 she walked in my room and told me she was having thyroid surgery. She just said, “Hey, I probably won’t be okay for a couple of days, but I’ll be alright.” I remember going with her to the hospital… something went wrong during surgery. For about a year she just fell into a coma. She couldn’t talk, or walk. She was breathing out of tubes. It was really tough to see that.
I went to the AAU Basketball Championship in Florida and when I came back, my dad told me she passed away while I was gone.
I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing that – You and your dad have a really close bond, can you tell me about your relationship with your him?
Corbin: We are definitely best friends. We don’t fight, but you know how you get annoyed with your parents at time? I know I do the same thing as him so I can’t even be mad. We’re super close though. During that time, I never realized how hard it had to be for him as well. I think about it now, throughout my lifetime of having girlfriends and all of that–feeling like you felt love in any sort of way. To actually see my dad have true love for my mom and lose her…I finally realized that as I got older it had to be the toughest thing to deal with.
Going to the gym was therapy for him as well. This whole time I was thinking it’s just for me but he needed it whether he knows or admits it or not. It was true therapy. We had grown so close during that time and he always used to tell me “it’s me and you against the world.” We’re super tight even now. He critiques me nonstop. When everyone’s complimenting me and telling me I played great, he’ll call me and say “You should have scored on this play.” He’s tough on me. He knows how I am as a competitor so he tries to get me going in different ways.
I’m so grateful for him. I couldn’t have asked for a better dad. To go through something so tough and to pour all of your pain and feelings into your child in a positive way is unreal. I can’t imagine possibly losing my wife one day. I wouldn’t want to be around anyone so I can’t thank him enough for that.
Okay, I’ve got some rapid-fire questions for you. Finish this sentence – I’m not ready for game day without…
Corbin: A nap.
How long do you sleep before a game?
Corbin: It depends. If I’ve got 4 hours, I’m sleeping the whole time.
Game day hype song?
Corbin: Probably Meek Mill’s whole Wins and Losses album. When I was going through something tough in my life, that album right there willed me out of what I was going through.
If you could only listen to one artist for an entire workout who would it be? Meek Mill?
Corbin: If I’m lifting it’s got to be Meek but if I’m running it can be Drake.
You have to sing karaoke for your life, what song are you picking?
Corbin: Who sings that song that goes “Baby you just don’t get it, do you enjoy being hurt? … “Let me love you” by Mario. As a kid in the car, I learned those words for this day. Because I know it’s going to come.
What TV show are you binging?
Corbin: I just finished Breaking Bad but I’m always binging Friends. Friends is my thing. It’s like a deeper meaning to it. Meek Mill and the show Friends helped me through a dark time. I don’t even have to look at the TV to know what’s going on.
RELATED: 2023 USFL Season Schedule: Dates, times, locations, new teams, playoff format, and more