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Sammis Reyes, Washington's new tight end, explains his incredible journey from being a teenager in Chile to the NFL

Washington Football Report

Washington Football Team signed a new tight end this week. On Wednesday, he talked to the media via Zoom. He told an incredible story.


Sammis Reyes had never played football before this year, but said that he is ready for the opportunity, focusing on not only his physical training for basketball, but the mental toughness he developed by leaving his native Chile and moving to the U.S. on his own at the age of 14. Reyes is now 25 years old, and his eleven years living, working, training and playing basketball in America, and his recent signing by the Washington Football Team to play in the NFL comprise a classic tale of chasing an American dream. It hasn't been easy, but Reyes seems to be very happy to be where he is right now.

Sammis Reyes said he was at the gym working out when his agent called to tell him that Washington wanted to sign him to a contract. He stopped what he was doing, said Reyes, and started crying. That sense of relief belies the easy manner with which Reyes describes his ongoing struggle to make a life by himself in the United States.

When he arrived as a teenager, Reyes says he didn't speak any English. He learned it in every way he could; he talked especially about watching movies -- particulalry the Matrix -- and translating words to build his English vocabulary.

To earn money, he trained younger players, helping them develop their basketball sklls. During the pandemic, Reyes said, no one wanted to train, so he spent five months as a Door Dash deliveryman.

As a teenager, Reyes had a dream of playing in the NBA, and came to America to chase that dream. He attended North Broward Prep High School in Florida and played basketball. The football coaches wanted him to be a two-sport athlete, but he decided not to for fear of an injury that might derail his attempt to develop an NBA career. He was named the best athlete at his school two years in a row.

He intially went to Hawaii to play college ball, but first the coach that recrutied him got fired, and then Reyes suffered two injuries that kept him from playing, so he decided to leave Hawaii to recover on the mainland. He relocated to Florida and played basketball at Palm Beach State Junior College. His play there caught the notice of the Tulane coaches, who recruited him to join the Green Wave, where he played his sophomore and junior seasons. He transferred to Loyola of New Orleans for his senior year.

His journey through three colleges and a junior college weren't impressive enough for the NBA, but Reyes had developed incredible athletic skills and had the physique of a body builder. People he trusted suggested that he try to make the conversion to the NFL.

To make that possible, Reyes entered the NFL's International Player Pathway (IPP) program, which offers non-U.S. athletes a special opportunity to play with an NFL team. Reyes acknowledges that he would have never had this opoprtunity to play in the NFL without the IPP program.

Read: The International Player Pathway program pays off for WFT for a second time

As one of the eleven players accepted into the program this year, Reyes trained for ten weeks in Georgia, along with the othe players in the IPP, but he was the only one who had never played American Football before, so his training, according to Reyes, was slightly different. During his 10 weeks of training in Georgia, Reyes was the only player, as he tells it, who had to wear pads each day in order to get used to them. Asked if he's at all worried about getting tackled, Reyes confidently replied that if he could leave his home country at 14 then he isn't scared to be hit on a football field.

Reyes understands that learning the sport from scratch will be a daunting challlenge, but he feels that he is ready for it; he has faced big challenges before and he won't be the first player to make the transition from the basketball court to NFL tight end.

In addition to making the move from Chile to America at the age of 14, learning English, and working part time to earn money while playing basketball and studying, Reyes pointed to his academic achievements in college. He explained that he majored in business and that he is currently just one class short of earning a second degree in finance. Reyes sees this ability to study and learn as part of what will allow him to learn the game of football.

While Reyes had never played the game before this year, he has been to professional football games. He said that while he was going to college in New Orleans, he used to go to Saints games with friends, so he is aware of what awaits him on the field.

People who know Reyes from college describe him as the type to be the first on the court and the last to leave. Reyes says that he will be working diligently to learn the game of football and the Washington playbook between now and training camp. He said that it’s just like learning anything else, and stressed that no one will outwork him when it comes to learning the intricacies of football. "To think I can come here overnight, I think that's naive," Reyes said. But he believes in himself, and his confidence is bolstered by all the support he receives from others.

Reyes thanked the coaches who have worked with him, both on the basketball court and more recently on the football field. He acknowledged the great players that have gone before him to pave the way for him to have this opportunity. A number of NFL tight ends like Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Mo Alie-Cox and Darren Fells have successfully made the transition that Reyes is trying to make now. Reyes mentioned that current Washington TE Logan Thomas, who himself made the transition from quarerback to tight end, was the first player on the team to make contact with him after he signed with Washington. Reyes said that the two had a conversation and that he was impressed by Thomas's willingness to help.

It turns out that Washington was Reyes' first choice for the NFL because he is already settled in the area. He and his girlfriend both live locally, and he now lives with family members, Reyes said that he is settled and has his own space for the first time since he was 14 years old. He is excited to be able to stay in the area and start the next chapter of his life with the Washington Football Team.

He said that 15 to 20 other NFL teams showed interest and that had planned to schedule seven visits, but told his agent Washington was his priority. He wanted to play for the Football Team if they wantted him. When they showed interest, he canceled every other visit. Clearly, he is where he wants to be.

Despite the daunting challenges that lie ahead, Reyes isn't overwhelmed: "I feel ready. I've been training my whole life for this moment."

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