The Washington Football Team added to its tight ends room Tuesday by signing Sammis Reyes.
Reyes (6-foot-5, 260 pounds) was initially part of the NFL's International Player Pathway Program, which aims to provide athletes around the world with the opportunity to compete at the professional level.
That afforded him the chance to work out at the University of Florida's Pro Day on March 31, and Washington's executives liked what they saw, so much so that the team signed Reyes before he could be placed elsewhere. Should Reyes make the 53-man roster, he would be the first Chilean-born player to do so.
"I just looked at myself in the mirror one morning and I said: 'I'm built for this. I should be in the NFL. I belong there,'" Reyes told the local media Wednesday. "Not only do I know my physical attributes are special -- I can jump 40 inches, I'm fast, I'm heavy, I'm 260 pounds -- but the mental aspect of it. Everything that happened to me hardened my mindset, my mind, and it allowed myself to look inside and say: 'Hey, you are built for this life. You are built for something that is not easy.'"
Here are five things to know about the 25-year-old athlete:
1. He has never played in a football game.
Yes, you read that right. Washington's newest member has zero game experience.
Reyes did practice, albeit for only a week, after the football coaches at North Broward Prep in Florida begged him to before his senior year of high school. He started at defensive end but quickly switched to tight end, where he excelled thanks to his size, speed and reliable hands. The game came naturally to Reyes, he told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, but he quickly turned his full attention back to his first love: basketball.
"I was like, 'You know what? I've got 20-plus Division I offers to play basketball. If I get hurt before my senior year, before my senior season in high school for basketball, these schools will drop me.'"
Over the past few months, it has been nothing but football for Reyes. As part of the International Player Pathway Program, he spent the last 10 weeks at IMG Academy in Florida training with his fellow athletes. He was the only player without football experience, so the coaches required him to be in full pads for every practice.
Reyes praised the coaches and everyone else involved with the program for making sure he was as prepared as possible for this moment whenever it would come. Now that it's here, Reyes is looking forward to the opportunity to prove himself.
"I feel ready," Reyes said. "Even though I haven't been playing the sport, I have been training for this my whole life. ...Right now it's all about sitting down, learning the playbook, learning the terminology, getting acclimated with my teammates and representing the organization at the highest level."
2. He was a basketball prodigy with dreams of playing in the NBA.
Reyes' dominance on the Chilean youth basketball circuit earned him a scholarship to North Broward Prep at the age of 14. And while he emerged as a star for the Eagles -- averaging 24.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.6 blocks as a senior -- he was also a member of the U15 and U17 Chilean National Teams.
Reyes' collegiate career included several stops, starting at Hawaii for a semester before transferring to Palm Beach State Junior College, where he led the team to a 24-8 record and a semifinals appearance in his lone campaign. He then played two seasons at Tulane, averaging 0.8 points and 1.5 rebounds across 32 games, and finished up at Loyola University in Louisiana.
It was during these years that Reyes realized his aspirations of playing in the NBA were unrealistic, but those close to him encouraged him to keep working towards becoming a professional athlete. He could still earn that distinction, they believed; it would just be on the football field instead of the basketball court.
"Every single person around me was begging me to play," Reyes said. "They were like, 'You are too athletic not to be in the NFL, it's insane.' I'm 260 pounds and pretty fast and pretty strong, so everyone convinced me. My friends, my closest friends, my family, and I had over 12 agents reach out to me at the time."
In May of 2020, Reyes dedicated himself to making this new dream a reality.
"I gave myself 365 days," he said of breaking into the NFL, "so it's pretty amazing what can happen in one year."
3. He's looking to become the latest Division I basketball player to thrive as an NFL tight end.
Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham are three of the most accomplished tight ends in NFL history, and like Reyes, they were former Division I basketball players. Gonzalez played for California in the mid-1990s, Gates helped lead Kent State to the Elite Eight in 2002 and Graham suited up for Miami in the late-2000s.
After playing at Tulane, Reyes is trying to follow in their footsteps.
"I have followed their stories," Reyes said. "Without them, I probably wouldn't have as big of a shot because there wouldn't be a road. The road has been traveled by other guys that made the transition from basketball to football, and I have to just thank them for making it possible for the next guys. This is not something that's new -- it's something that has been proven to work -- it just requires a guy who's willing to put in the work. And that's me. So, I'm ready."
Reyes joins Graham (Chicago Bears), Mo Alie-Cox (Indianapolis Colts) and Darren Fells (free agent) as current NFL tight ends who played Division I basketball, but that distinction will not be the only driving factor of Reyes' potential success. Reyes' testing numbers on his pro day made him the most-athletic size-adjusted tight end to ever enter the NFL, according to the Relative Athletic Score system. That includes Florida's Kyle Pitts, who is largely seen as the best prospect at the position in decades.
Reyes is hoping to turn his elite athleticism and basketball prowess into pancake blocks, shifty route running and contested catches in Washington.
"My ability to run routes and go get the ball high up in the air are probably my biggest traits. I'm 6-6 and I can jump 40 inches, so if you throw me the ball up high, I'll go get it," Reyes said. "Creating separation from defenders, I just bring the basketball court into the field and just try to use my best impression of an Allen Iverson crossover and try and get open. And when it comes to blocking, just being physical and putting my head down and going to work. Just that underdog mentality, and the ability to block is going to be huge for me."
4. He was a personal basketball trainer and food delivery driver while preparing for the NFL.
Once Reyes committed to football, he began working out vigorously with coach Justin Kavanaugh to transform his body from basketball player to NFL tight end.
"After the [first] workout, coach [Kavanaugh] was like, 'Hey, man, you'll be in the league. Let's get you right,'" Reyes told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in January. "So I started working out with him, and it's every single day, we're training at least six hours a day. Sunday is the one day I take off."
All the while, he needed to make some extra cash, so he began training local youth basketball players. He invested any money he made, hoping to grow his income while working toward a new career.
The COVID-19 pandemic all but eliminated Reyes' occupation as a personal trainer, so he found a new job during quarantine: DoorDash. For eight hours a day, he was on the road delivering food.
Despite not playing sports during this time, he had no trouble staying focused on his goal. He read motivation books in the morning and listened to self-improvement podcasts while driving. Eventually, he knew his ambition and work ethic would pay off.
"There was never a moment where 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 and I would get here. It just happened to be football because I trained very hard to get here."
5. "I want to be in Washington. I want to be a part of that team."
So much of the past decade for Reyes has been adapting to new environments: moving to the United States by himself when he was 14, having to learn an entirely new language, traveling around the country to play basketball and then transitioning to football without any prior experience.
But for the past year, he has been living with his girlfriend in Washington. And for the first time since coming to America, it feels like home. So when Washington contacted Reyes' agent, Tabetha Plummer, after his Pro Day, that was where he wanted to play. It didn't matter that he spoke with more than 20 franchises and had seven trips already planned out. He loved this city, believed in this team's potential and admired head coach Ron Rivera and the culture he has instilled.
In his mind, "It just felt right."
"My agent, Tabatha, called me and said the deal was done," Reyes said. "I was like: 'OK, that's it. I don't care about any other deal that comes on the table. I want to be in Washington. I want to be a part of that team.'
"I just sat down and cried for like 20 minutes because I couldn't believe how crazy it is. It's been a long road. It's been 10 years of sacrifice and hard work, not only me doing the sacrifices, but my family. You can only imagine what it means to send your kid away to a place where you don't even speak the language, so my parents couldn't even communicate with my teachers. It was a long road. I know it's just the beginning, but it truly means the world to me and my family to have this opportunity."