Reyes' coach details the Washington TE's amazing prep for NFL


Steve Hagen has been coaching football since the mid-1980s, and he's held jobs in the NFL, at the college level and even abroad. The guy has seen more than his fair share of gifted athletes with exceptional physiques.

Yet when he first met Sammis Reyes — who signed with the Washington Football Team on Tuesday — at the IMG Academy in Florida, Hagen was downright impressed.

"I was like, 'Dang, who is this beast?'" Hagen told NBC Sports Washington in a recent Zoom interview. "He looks like The Rock. Just jacked up. His biceps are just a little bigger than mine."

Hagen was asked to bring his services and expertise to the renowned training center in Bradenton in order to closely tutor Reyes, along with 10 additional league hopefuls, as part of the NFL's International Player Pathway Program.

Reyes, a former college basketball player at Tulane, was awarded a spot in the IPPP and arrived at IMG ready to become a tight end and perhaps earn a spot on a pro roster.

And all Hagen had to do was tutor the Chilean-born prospect, who had never played a snap of competitive football before, for that immense challenge — in a matter of only 10 weeks, by the way. 

"We were just cramming and jamming for football stuff," Hagen said.

Hagen, as he mentioned, knew Reyes was in a decent place to handle the on-field side of his development. Reyes is 6-foot-5, can jump 40 inches and has an enormous set of hands that once made Hagen tell him, "Dude, you should never drop a ball in public."


As far as Reyes' knowledge of the game, though, well, it understandably wasn't there. No one from Chile has ever become an NFL player, and Reyes grew up focused on starring on the hardwood.

So, Hagen had to answer question... after question... after question as Reyes strived to understand the basics as well as the nuances of his new profession. 

"Me on the inside, and Sam, if you're listening to this, just laugh, but on the inside I'd be like, 'Seriously?'" Hagen said when recalling some of Reyes' inquiries, which ranged from What is Cover 2 again? to Why does the quarterback's cadence include a color and a number like 'White 80!'? to What's an audible? 

Despite facing an overwhelming learning curve, Reyes kept pushing.

"I was shoveling it as fast as I could and he was catching it as fast as he could, and it was fun," Hagen said. "Really fun."

Reyes' days at IMG, which served as a lead-up to the March 31 workout at the University of Florida in front of scouts and coaches where he drew Washington's attention, were filled to the brim.

Typically, he'd be up by 5:30 a.m., meet with Hagen around 7, link up with his fellow IPPP participants for a group meeting at 8, stretch, lift and run until 11:30, pause for lunch, duck into another meeting where Hagen showed him offensive and special teams tape, head to the field for two-and-a-half hours of positional drills, eat dinner and then consume more tape. Hagen would sometimes get texts at 11 p.m. from Reyes, which would contain more questions.

"To me, it was like an NFL training camp," Hagen said, describing everyone there as "so dialed in."

As for what Reyes must do to stick with the Burgundy and Gold, Hagen believes overcoming the never-ending contact that all tight ends encounter is one of Reyes' primary obstacles. In basketball, as Hagen noted, a slight bump goes down as a foul. That, of course, won't be the case along the offensive line or when attempting to separate from a linebacker.

"He's got to get used to the physicality," Hagen told NBC Sports Washington. "That's why, when we got to camp, I said, 'If we don't put a set of shoulder pads and a helmet on this guy, he'll have no chance when he gets to a camp.' He's got to feel how cumbersome that is and get to that comfort level."

Reyes — who reminds Hagen a bit of longtime tight end Ben Watson, whom Hagen overlapped with during his stint as a Cleveland Browns assistant — also must continue devoting himself to the mental aspect of the job. Reyes acknowledged that, too, in his enthralling introductory presser with the local media on Wednesday.


Hagen, who's living in Italy now (and still working the sidelines), is nevertheless confident that Reyes can emerge for Ron Rivera and Washington as long as he remains as committed as he was prior to signing with the club, and there's no reason to expect that to change.

Sure, that process could — and realistically will — take a while, but Hagen predicts it'll conclude with Reyes materializing into a "contributor," and he'll be monitoring his pupil's progress closely.

"I grew up as a ball boy for the Cowboys and I hated the Washington team, but now I'm cheering for them," Hagen said. "Besides his own personal family, I'll be his hugest fan."