Remembering former Syracuse running back Walter Reyes, 36, the ‘selfless’ teammate who dominated

September 16, 2020 | |Post a Comment

first_imgThat was Reyes, the man several of his former teammates described as selfless this week. (And also a prankster; he once left a rubber snake under his roommate Anthony Smith’s covers.) After leaving SU and spending that summer trying to make the NFL’s Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent signing, he returned to Ohio to be a stepfather to his wife Yolanda’s four children. In recent years, he had worked as a personal trainer and coach for local high school football players. For that to be the final chapter of Reyes’ “selfless” journey made sense. He ran track as a kid because his mother’s wishes were for him not to play football. He cooked summer meals for Rhodes even though they could have eaten food provided by SU. And the final words he spoke on a podcast earlier this year sent a similarly themed parting message.“Live life and enjoy it, man. Tomorrow’s not promised. We’ve got one life to live,” Reyes said in March. “If you’ve got kids, be the best dad that you can. If you’ve got none, be the best son to your mom or your dad. To your girlfriend or your wife, be there for her. Be the best person you can be.”   Walter Reyes deserved to wear 44. Rob Konrad, the last to don the hallowed number, told Reyes so himself. Paul Pasqualoni, Syracuse’s head coach at the time, publicly stated that he tossed the idea around, and Reyes’ fellow seniors pushed for it hard. They asked the original 44, Jim Brown, for his blessing in person when Brown visited campus for a movie he was shooting with Spike Lee. Brown saw no problem with Reyes resurrecting the 44 jersey, according to former SU kicker Collin Barber. But Reyes did. Reyes wanted to stay with 39. It was the number he signed next to his name in middle school because, at the time, Penn State’s Curtis Enis was an inspiration to the first-time football player in Struthers, Ohio. Entering his senior year, Reyes declined 44 because after nearly 2,500 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns in three seasons in Syracuse, he had made 39 on his own.  “Forty-four comes with a lot of the spotlight,” former SU safety O’Neil Scott said, “and Walt was one of those guys who would rather give that spotlight to his teammates than take it himself.” Reyes died in an Ohio hospital last week after experiencing stomach pain for several days. A coroner’s report will determine the cause of death in the coming weeks. Reyes was 36. AdvertisementThis is placeholder textCourtesy of Collin BarberThe sudden loss of one of Syracuse’s best players from a forgettable point in the program’s history recalled the memory of a man who, despite sitting near the top of some of Syracuse’s most prestigious rushing records, was often forgotten himself. His name is usually left off a list of great SU running backs — Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Floyd Little, Joe Morris and Larry Csonka — because there simply isn’t enough room for one more.  The length of that list, though, shouldn’t diminish what Reyes did or what he meant to the program, said ESPN play-by-play commentator Anish Shroff. Shroff arrived as a freshman at Syracuse the same year as Reyes and called games in the Carrier Dome for WAER. Even if the extent of their relationship didn’t go past the occasional interview, Shroff noticed a “quiet confidence” in Reyes.  “(Reyes) was really the brave face, a light in a dark era of Syracuse football,” Shroff said. “…The light started to dim on the glory years of the late ‘80s through the ‘90s, and Walter Reyes was probably the last glint from the era that had come before. If he plays five years earlier, we remember him in a different light.” A 61-yard outburst against Toledo during Reyes’ junior season ended up on Shroff’s resume reel, and big plays came to define Reyes’ blossoming career at SU. He scored 17 rushing touchdowns as a sophomore in 2002 and 20 more the next season. Scott, the former SU safety, praised Reyes’ speed. Troy Swittenberg, another former safety, lauded his power. Damien Rhodes, a running back one year behind Reyes, admired the patience his “big brother” displayed once he received a handoff. “He was the type of guy that would carry you on his back and lead you to where the promised land is,” former SU guard Steve Franklin said, “but you’d have to match his intensity.” Reyes’ success put him in the conversation for both the Heisman Trophy and No. 44 jersey his senior year. But the hype faded early after Reyes failed to total 100 yards after the first two games of 2004. He finished the season with 803 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, missing the final three regular-season games after the helmet of a Pittsburgh tackler ripped underneath Reyes’ pads and tore a muscle in his shoulder. It was not a lost season for Syracuse, especially considering the team won a share of the Big East championship and made a bowl game for the first time since Reyes’ freshman year. He made that clear in several late-season interviews. After a Week 5 demolition of Rutgers, a game where he ran for 237 yards and two touchdowns, looking like his old self for the first time all season, Reyes jokingly refused attention. He had passed Csonka for second place on SU’s all-time rushing list, but instead sat at the podium during the post-game press conference and asked Rhodes what it was like to run for 100 yards that day. Rhodes had never done that in college. The moment was emblematic of the collaboration, not competition, Reyes perceived the two to be in. “He always gave me confidence by saying, ‘We’re going to go out there and do this together. We’re going to be special together,’” Rhodes said.  Comments Published on December 3, 2017 at 9:00 pm Contact: jtbloss@syr.edu | @jtbloss Facebook Twitter Google+last_img



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