Long before football was on his radar, Omar Reyes, a junior IR/political science major, aspired to be a professional baseball player.
“Baseball was my passion. My parents never let me play football. They are from Mexico and were unfamiliar with the sport and only saw the media’s version of it, which oftentimes includes big nasty hits. They were afraid I would get hurt,” he said in an interview.
However, after getting accepted to the most prestigious magnet school in Chicago, Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, and receiving an invitation to play from the football coach, Reyes began his football career.
Though Walter Payton’s strong academic reputation and Reyes’ drive to succeed are what initially brought him out of his Chicago Southside neighborhood, Brighton Park, the school’s football helped ground him and find a place in his new school.
“The kids I grew up with, a lot of them turned out to be in gangs. The ones who stuck around in the neighborhood schools either dropped out or failed out. All the friends I had growing up ended up going down the wrong path,” Reyes said. “I absolutely could have ended up like that.”
Leaving the area and attending high school on the Northside of Chicago “just made the complete difference. That’s where I learned that there are a lot of alternatives out there, and you just have to pick one and go with it. I chose to stay focused on sports,” said Reyes.
During his sophomore year, his team switched coaches, looking to rebuild after a rough season during his freshman year. The new coach, Anthony Faltin, came from a similar background as Reyes, and he immediately connected with him. They are still good friends, keeping in touch through text and phone calls.
His first job was cleaning Faltin’s gym in exchange for membership access. “He just always gave me a chance when no one did give me a chance,” said Reyes, “he opened doors up for me and I will forever be grateful to him.”
It was because of a highlight tape made by Faltin that Reyes even considered continuing football in college. The tape, made as a “thank you for,” in Reyes words, “giving him four years of hard work and being dedicated to the team,” was uploaded on Youtube in case the DVD was lost. College coaches from several universities found the video and began contacting Reyes.
Although he had never seriously considered playing in college, Reyes realized that football would be a way to peak the interest of the highly rigorous universities he hoped to attend.
Reyes was admitted to several schools, including one in a D1 AA athletic conference, but in the end he chose Carleton, what he says to be “the strongest academic school” of the ones to which he was accepted.
Academics have always come first for Reyes. “I’ve always believed in the student athlete. Student is always first in there,” he explained.
He remembers struggling to transition from his less-academically rigorous Middle School to a more demanding High School, especially while trying to balance football. However he found his equilibrium, even though that meant doing homework on his hour and twenty-minute train ride to and from school.
Now a Defensive Lineman for the Carleton Knights, Reyes says, “It’s so much nicer here because I don’t have to sit on the train; I can just go to the library after practice. It’s almost like a reward for all I did in high school.”
Although the Knights have experienced several rough years, Reyes was drawn to the team because of the potential for rebuilding. He remembers Head Coach Bob Pagel saying to him, “’I know you’ve built stuff before. You’ve worked to build a team. That’s what we want to do here at Carleton.’ And I love challenges like that.”
In spite of only winning one game this season, Reyes says, “I always keep the big picture in mind. I’m always striving. I’ve got one more year and I’m really excited to go into the offseason with a head full of stream and just go for the potential we have, and expand that potential.”