- The Washington Times
Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Sammis Reyes gave himself one year. 

Convinced by his family and friends to pursue professional football, Reyes said he’d take the next 365 days to figure out how to do it. The 25-year-old, a former college basketball player standing at 6-foot-7, had all the physical traits for the NFL, but there was just one problem: He hadn’t played the sport before. Football wasn’t exactly a staple in his native Chile.

No problem.

“Even though I haven’t been playing the sport, I’ve been training for this my whole life,” Reyes said with a smile. “I came to this country when I was 14 with the dream of making the NBA. I make the wrong decision back then, should have been sticking to football from the beginning.  I didn’t know that at the time. We don’t play football in Chile

“But I’m ready, man.” 

Reyes can laugh about it now. After all, the Chilean’s remarkable journey resulted in a contract with the Washington Football Team on Tuesday following an impressive showcase during a pro day at the University of Florida last month for international players. In front of NFL scouts, executives and coaches, Reyes blew past expectations with a stunning 4.67 40-yard dash, 31 225-pound bench reps and an eye-popping 40-inch vertical leap.

The performance led up to 20 teams all vying to sign Reyes, who’s looking to become the latest success story in a long line of basketball players turned tight end. He even lined up visits with the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons. But once Washington made an offer, Reyes didn’t hesitate. The team was his top choice all along, he said — it turns out that Reyes had been living in the District for the past year with his girlfriend, whose family is from the area. 

Most stunning? Reyes said he’s been practicing football for just 10 weeks, after gaining entry to the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program. 

“I got very well prepared,” Reyes said. “The biggest shock was learning the game. Football is not an easy game. … Every player has a different role. It’s not like basketball where you have five guys per team and everyone does a little bit of everything. Football is very different. 

“Having to learn my position was challenging. I was very fortunate the NFL Pathway Program had great coaches.” 

Reyes began learning the basics in Florida, where the NFL’s program was based. And because Reyes had very little experience — he turned down an offer to play in high school because he was focused on basketball, he said —  coaches made him wear pads every practice to get acclimated to the feel of the sport. He was the only player in which that was the case, he said. 

But if learning football is like learning another language, as the cliche goes, then Reyes is well used to that. When he moved to the U.S. at 14 to play basketball for a private prep school, he came without his parents and only spoke Spanish. Besides school, Reyes said he’d watch movies — usually “The Matrix” — with subtitles to help learn English. Listening to music and writing out words in the dictionary helped too.

Reyes was driven to pursue football after a slew of friends and family told him he was too athletically gifted not to try. He had heard that his whole life, he said, but he was finally convinced last year. 

What changed? After graduating from Tulane in 2018, Reyes spent the next year playing for Chile’s national basketball team. But when he returned to the U.S., he was open for a new opportunity. He said he looked in the mirror one morning and realized he was “built for this.” 

Over the past year, normal everyday life went on while Reyes eyed football. To make a living, Reyes said he helped teach kids basketball around the District and would invest that money into other areas (He holds a business degree.) When the lessons were put on pause because of the pandemic, Reyes became a DoorDash driver for five months and delivered food eight hours per day. 

As Reyes drove, he said he often put on motivational podcasts. He used those as well as motivational books to keep himself amped up. He never got discouraged, he said.

And there’s another piece of motivation fueling Reyes: If he makes Washington’s 53-man roster and plays in a game, he’ll be the first Chilean-born player to make the NFL

But first, he’s focused on learning everything he can. 

“I’ve always been very ambitious,” Reyes said. “So there was never a moment when I doubted success. I didn’t know how it was going to come. But I knew something was going to happen because of my mindset that was going to help get me there.

“It just happened to be football, which I trained very hard to be here.”

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