Sammis Reyes was on the floor doing ab exercises recently when he received a phone call that changed his life.
Reyes, whom the Washington Football Team signed on Tuesday, left his family in Chile and traveled to the United States when he was 14 years old.
Upon arriving in America, Reyes learned an entirely new language to ensure he could thrive in high school, worked his way onto Tulane University's basketball roster, earned a degree (and was one class away from picking up a second) and then, at age 23, finally decided to do what so many in his life had been begging him to do: pursue a career on the football field.
Eventually, Reyes was given an opportunity to make that sports transition through the NFL's International Player Pathway Program, and he along with a handful of other players spent 10 weeks honing their skills at the IMG Academy in Florida. On March 31, that group worked out in front of coaches and scouts at the University of Florida's Pro Day, where the tight end hopeful shined so much that the Burgundy and Gold opted to offer him a contract.
So, when Reyes' agent called him to let him know that Washington was interested in acquiring him, he was — understandably — overwhelmed, describing it as "a moment of true happiness."
"We just sat down and cried for, like, 30 minutes, because we couldn't believe how crazy it was," Reyes said Wednesday in a press conference with local and international media. "It's been a long road. It's been 10 years of sacrifice and hard work. And it's not only me doing these sacrifices, but my family."
Reyes relayed that following the Pro Day, upwards of 20 franchises reached out to inquire about his possible career in the league. He explained that he had lined up seven or so visits with those organizations, a batch that included the Chiefs and the Falcons.
Yet, all along, Washington was the squad he wanted to join. He's been living in the area for the past year with his girlfriend so he's familiar with it, and he was drawn to the culture that Ron Rivera has already instilled during his tenure as head coach.
"I love the city," Reyes said. "It's a place where — for the first time in my life — it felt like home. For me, coming from a different country, I've been moving from place to place since I was 14 years old... I was like, 'That's it. I don't care about any other offer that comes to the table.'"
Reyes essentially has no football experience aside from his stretch of training in Florida (though he did attend a Saints game while at Tulane, so he's at least seen one). Nevertheless, he's confident that he'll fit in physically, and he should be: He's 6-foot-5, weighs 260 pounds, possesses a 40-inch vertical and ran a 4.65 in the 40-yard dash.
It's the mental side, Reyes acknowledged, that he must attack in order to turn into something more than just an inspirational story. Learning the rules and responsibilities of each guy on offense and defense has been a "shock," especially compared to his experiences on the hardwood, where "you have five guys on every team and they do a little bit of everything."
Yet on Wednesday, he came across as someone with the right approach to accomplish what he's attempting to pull off.
"What I do know is that no one is going to outwork me," he said.
As he told reporters about his upbringing, it became easy to believe him.
In his teenage years, Reyes' family — his parents still reside in Chile — would send him $50 a month, which was all they could give. As a high school student, he would read the dictionary word-by-word, listen to music and watch movies with subtitles (his go-to was The Matrix) to grow comfortable speaking English.
Once he moved to the DMV, Reyes held basketball training sessions with kids to make money, and when the pandemic caused that income to dry up, he began delivering food for DoorDash. Typically, he'd rack up eight hours a shift in that gig.
In the near future, at least, Reyes now gets to focus on running routes against defenders instead of driving routes to people's homes. Reyes understands how many obstacles remain in front of him — he hasn't been tackled yet, for example, and he was the only player at IMG who wore pads every day so he could familiarize himself with them — but, to him, those obstacles don't compare with the ones he's already overcome.
"I always tell people: I don't think there’s going to be anything harder than having to leave home when you’re 14," Reyes said. "So I’m prepared for whatever comes."