Omar Reyes Jr: “Football Made Everything Fall Into Place In My Life.”

Photo Credit: Emily Lestrange

Catch the Cumberland @ Cranston East football game on YurView LIVE this Friday October 25 at 7:00pm on Cox Channel 4 and streaming on YurView.com.

These days Omar Reyes Jr. laughs when he thinks about his first football practice.

“I started playing youth football when I was eight years old,” Reyes said. “The first day I went to practice they ran a sprint and I said, ‘that’s it. I’m done.’ Since I was about five, I had been a big kid, a little overweight. I hated running. I pretty much couldn’t run one sprint.”

So, Reyes went home looking for an escape from the gridiron.

He didn’t find it.

“I wanted to quit right away. I went home after that first practice and cried to my mom that I wanted to quit. But my dad made me go back the next day,” Reyes related. “I think he felt it would be the best sport to get me in shape and I think he also felt I would eventually like it.”

Father Knows Best.

Today Reyes is a 17-year-old, 6-0, 275-pound Cranston East senior; one of the captains of this year’s Thunderbolts football team and one of the top two-way linemen in the R.I. Interscholastic League Division I football ranks.

“That first year when my father made me go back after the first day I said ‘ok, I will give it a month. Once I got past the running part, I liked it. I was a big kid so I was good at hitting people. Little kids like to do things they are good at.”

But Reyes quickly learned football is a lot more than just big kids hitting people.

“I liked the team-bonding,” Reyes offered about why he kept playing football. “I played baseball when I was little, but football felt different. You had to be closer as a team in football than you did in baseball.”

He realized at an early age with his size he never was going to be the star quarterback or the speeding running back who is constantly hearing his name being cheered by the fans.

“Linemen get no glory, but that’s okay,” said Reyes. “In basketball if you don’t fit the build you probably are not going to be successful. But in football there is a spot for everybody to make a meaningful contribution to his team. That’s what I love about football.”

The more he played the more Reyes developed a passion for the game. He discovered football was a game that was fun to play and it also mirrored lessons he had grown-up learning at home. In many ways football is a complex game. But the game’s basic creed is simple: show-up every day for practice; do what the coaches tells you to do and work hard at improving your skills.

“I have always been pretty decent about doing what’s right; what you should do” said Reyes. “I just wrote my college essay and it was about ‘I did everything to the best of my ability because that’s what I was taught growing-up.”

His father is, in Reyes’ words, “A football guy who loves football”. But his parents never left any doubt their son’s main priority should be his academic work.

“My parents always told me education will get you places, open doors for you,” said Reyes.

“My parents were always on me about school work, but they were never like super on me. School and football were what you do. You never miss a football practice and you never miss a school assignment.”

The result is Reyes’ career academic stats are as impressive as his football stats. He is a National Honor Society member who has compiled a 3.8 grade point average on a 4.0 scale.

“He’s a kid you can always count on,” said veteran Cranston East coach Tom Centore. “He’s smart, he’s a hard worker and he has a real understanding of the game.”

Reyes saw varsity playing time as a freshman and was a starter by his sophomore season in 2017. His play in that 2017 season helped Cranston East win the Division I Super Bowl title. Last season he was one of the top players on an East team that just missed the playoffs when the Thunderbolts were the odd-team out in a three-way tie for the final two Division I-A playoff spots.

Unfortunately, this season Reyes is one of only a few Cranston East players with any playing experience.

“We are a very, very young team. It is the youngest team I have ever coached at East,” said Centore who is in his 15th year as the East head coach.

The result is the Thunderbolts have lost every game so far this season.

“I feel bad for Omar,” said Centore. “He has had mostly ups during his career, now in his senior year, he is experiencing the downs that come with playing with so many young players. He takes loses hard. I wish I could fix it for him. It’s just unfortunate we don’t have people around him who are ready to help yet.”

But rather than bemoan his fate this season, Reyes is looking at the 2019 campaign as a challenge and a learning experience.

“I’m definitely working harder now that we are struggling,” said Reyes who is averaging eight tackles per game this season from his berth on the defensive line. “I have learned every position on the line because my team needs me to do that this season. We just put in a new package of plays so I’ve learned all of them”

“I know he doesn’t like the center position, but we have had to use him there sometimes because he is the best we have. Even though it is not his position, he could be the best center in the state,” said Centore.

Reyes now understands the game he once wanted to quit has molded his life.

“I like to know what’s happening, in the news and in football,” said Reyes. “I like to know why things are done the way they are and that has made me a better football player. When we go through the plays, some kids just listen. I try to visualize in my head how it will work so I can understand it better. It’s the same way in the classroom. It’s how my brain works”

He wants to be an engineer and he wants to play college football.

“I like helping people. I like solving problems,” said Reyes, who also plays lacrosse for the Thunderbolts. “I want to make other people’s lives simpler and better.”

“Football builds you as a person; teaches you how to balances school work and other things in life,” Reyes added. “When we have long practices, I go home and all I want to do is sleep but, I have to get my school work done before I can sleep. That’s the challenge. Football has become part of life. It has made everything fall into place in my life.”

Sometimes you don’t need to be on a championship team to be a big winner.

Catch the Cumberland @ Cranston East football game on YurView LIVE this Friday October 25 at 7:00pm on Cox Channel 4 and streaming on YurView.com.