WASHINGTON — Sammis Reyes, born internationally and now on an NFL roster in the United States, cried for twenty minutes when the Washington Football Team called to sign him to the team.
Reyes has never played a single organized game of football, but spent half of his life chasing the American dream. And Washington may have some luck of its own with a 6'7, 240-pound tight end prospect now with the team.
Born in Chile, he left his home country to pursue a basketball dream when he was 14 years old – leaving his mother and father back home. Sammis didn't know much about football until he moved to the United States. Both of his parents played basketball, and soccer was the main sport in Chile.
"I came here with a dream of making the NBA," said Reyes. "I came here by myself not knowing the language or culture."
His father would send $50 a month to help support Reyes. He didn't even know how to speak English.
"I couldn’t speak a single word of English. I couldn’t tell you, 'Hi, how are you?' I would pull out a dictionary and rewrite it. I took learning the language very seriously. I watched movies. Like the Matrix. I would look at the subtitles and write it out," Reyes said.
For discussion and takes on the Samiss Reyes signing, listen to the Locked On Washington Football Team podcast with David Harrison and Chris Russell.
Reyes first lived in Florida, participating in a basketball program. After three months, the program shut down, forcing him to live on his own at a very young age. He would later move to Hawaii. But after receiving a scholarship to play basketball at Tulane University, he would move once more to New Orleans.
When his basketball career was over, Reyes worked as a basketball trainer. When COVID-19 hit, his work decreased.
"I was training people to make money. In between training sessions, I would do Door Dash. I think I was the number one delivery man in the nation," said Reyes.
Around this time is when many of his friends encouraged him to play football. However, the closest Reyes has ever been to football was when he would attend Saints games in New Orleans with his college teammates.
Reyes would take a leap of faith. In May of 2020, he gave himself one year to train to play football.
Reyes entered the NFL's International Player Pathway Program, a league initiative placing international athletes with teams to train for a season. The Washington Football Team saw Reyes work out during a pro day at the University of Florida on April 1.
Washington was so impressed with his talent they wanted to sign him.
"I came from a very poor family with a very humbling background. Getting that call and having that special moment," said Reyes. "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."
Reyes' mom is a teacher and his father an insurance agent. He's usually only able to see his parents once a year.
"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," added Reyes.
Ironically, Reyes has been living in the Washington, D.C., area for more than a year. Reyes says he and his agent had conversations with 20 other NFL teams, but the Washington Football Team was always his number one choice.
"Since 14, I’ve been bouncing around from place to place. I lived in New Orleans, Hawaii and Florida. For the first time in my life, I was able to afford my own place. It was my first home in the United States. That’s what it felt like," said Reyes. "Having to go through all those 10 years of hard work and finally feeling established somewhere, it felt like home. So I didn’t want to leave. I fought so hard to be somewhere. If I had to choose to pick where I wanted to go, it was going to be Washington."
Transforming basketball players to tight ends has proved to be successful. You don't have to look far from D.C., or go back far in time to see its success.
Players like Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham and Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez have all found success in the NFL after their basketball career.
"I think it’s just bringing the basketball court to the field. Being able to get open, run, stop and catch a ball," said Reyes. "I’ve been catching a ball all my life, it’s just a different ball now."
If Reyes appears in an NFL game, he would be the first Chilean-born player to do so. If Reyes scores a touchdown, the first celebration idea would be to dunk the football on the goal post. However, that kind of celebration is banned form the NFL, so Reyes plans to bring a little bit of his Chilean culture to the field.
"When I score I think I might have to bring out some Chilean dances to the NFL to let them know we can dance."