Tress Way’s eyes welled up with tears as he doubled over in Ron Rivera’s office. He had just been told by the head coach that he had been voted to his second Pro Bowl, but it was not his own success that made him so emotional.
Way learned that he is not the only member of the Washington Commanders' special teams unit headed for Las Vegas. The other player is Jeremy Reaves, who, after four years of bouncing between the practice squad and active roster, has been rewarded for his effort, production and dedication as a primary special teams player during the 2022 season.
Way stood up and smiled, because he knew how much his teammate deserved the honor.
"He's making every frickin' play under the sun," Way said in the locker room.
Reaves has certainly earned the Pro Bowl distinction with his performances. Through Week 15, Reaves has 16 total special teams tackles, which leads the NFL and a punt return coverage unit that ranks No. 4 in the NFL.
The love that Reaves has received since his reaction to being informed of his Pro Bowl is not just because he has proven to be an exceptional player. It is also because of his perseverance, passion and selflessness that his teammates appreciate him so much.
"I've experienced everything that all of you have felt," Reaves said. "I'm not different from anybody else, so all the experience that I've encountered in my life, other people have fought those battles, too. I've just been blessed that mine has been put on the national stage."
Rivera saved what he knew would be the best reaction for last in the video created by the Commanders' in-house production team. Prior to earning a spot on the 53-man roster in September, Reaves had been moved from the practice squad to the active roster and back again six times since Rivera became Washington's head coach. Adding to that was the personal trauma of losing his mother around Thanksgiving last year.
That did not stop Reaves from working hard and trying to carve out a role on the Commanders' roster. "He does the things that guys that are not drafted should do," Rivera said, and his teammates see how hard he works each day.
"He understands what his role is and he does his role to the best," Rivera said. "I think his teammates really do appreciate that, and I think that's part of it."
For Reaves, being recognized for what he has achieved through all his struggles has meant "everything" to him. "Everything I've been through," Reaves said, "was preparing me for this."
"At the end of the day, I always wanted my story to inspire someone else," Reaves said. "I think God gives people battles to encourage other people to fight theirs."
Reaves' story of fighting for a roster spot has blown up since the video was released on social media, and his determination is part of why his teammates appreciate him. But for Way, his importance to the team goes beyond that. "It's who that frickin' dude is."
"He is one of those guys when you walk in the locker room, when you walk down the hallway, when you walk in the cafeteria, you are just happy to see him," Way said. "He is so consistent with who he is as a person, his effort on the field, his energy. And he would just do anything for anyone."
That is seen by the coaches as well, with Rivera calling Reaves a "go-to guy" in the locker room or away from the facility.
"A guy needs something, a guy needs some help or just wanted to hang out or something, Jeremy's a guy I know a lot of guys do gravitate towards."
That is why Way was so happy to see Reaves, who often goes out of his way to help others, receive the honor of being a Pro Bowl starter. In fact, Way was the first teammate to congratulate Reaves after Rivera told him the news.
"I told him the other day...'Dude, I've just had so much fun this year with you,'" Way said. "It's just a really fun experience to have together."
And of course, Reaves returns all the love he has gotten from Way.
"That's my guy, man," Reaves said of Way with a smile. "He's been here since I've been here, and he's kind of seen my story unfold. And so, me and him, we've kind of shared the same pathway. We've experienced things in life. To see his reaction is what got me, honestly. Just to see how happy he was for me in that moment. It was awesome, man."
For Reaves, giving back to his teammates is easy. After all, they have supported him through being cut, fighting for a spot and the loss of his mother. So, how could he not support them just as much as they have done for him?
"They've all been pivotal in where I am today," Reaves said. "I can't take credit for this by myself. It takes a village, and this has been my village, along with all my family and my friends. These guys have all just been there for me."