Christian Reyes went to a Wal-Mart near the Charleston Southern campus last winter and introduced himself as a Buccaneers football player.
Deadpan response: “Charleston Southern has a football team?”
The junior running back checked out with his purchases, with no charge for the brand new chip on his shoulder.
“I took it upon myself — and I told every single player here — to put Charleston Southern on the map,” said Reyes, who has a team-leading 729 yards rushing going into Saturday’s game at Colorado.
Inspiration is just part of Reyes’ skill set. His college football success path is as unlikely as CSU getting off to a 7-0 start that includes upset wins at The Citadel and Appalachian State. The Buccaneers are in the Football Championship Subdivision top 25 this week only two years removed from an 0-11 season.
Reyes? Just your typical 5-10 CSU star and married father from the recruiting hotbed of Rogue River, Ore.
He came to CSU from College of the Siskiyous in Weed, Calif. Reyes was about to depart for South Carolina last January when he learned that Jay Mills resigned as Bucs head coach. David Padilla, a CSU assistant and California native who recruited Reyes, was kept on the staff by new head coach Jamey Chadwell and helped ease Reyes’ transition.
“This has been such an exciting season,” Reyes said. “From getting here and hearing what people thought about this football program and then to see Coach Chadwell turn that atmosphere around, it’s been amazing to see what we’ve been able to accomplish. The chemistry within the team and the way people view us at school really changed in a matter of six weeks.”
Reyes has scored five touchdowns.
“Christian comes out to practice every day with a lunch pail and a shovel and he’s ready to go to work,” said sophomore tight end Nathan Prater. “Guys see that kind of work ethic. It makes them want to work that much harder.”
It took a while. Reyes didn’t figure much into Chadwell’s plans after spring practice.
“We really didn’t know what we had,” Chadwell said. “It was a big adjustment for him in the spring, being married and coming from Oregon. But then in the summer, it was like, ‘Who is this?’ But Christian said to me after spring practice, ‘Coach, I didn’t have a good spring practice but you mark it down: I will be better.’ And he’s been phenomenal.”
Reyes, a solid 218 pounds, was named a team captain right before the season started.
“That just shows you his work ethic,” Chadwell said, “and it shows you what kind of person he is.”
Reyes, his wife Kacey and 1-year-old son Tycen have settled in nicely. The couple began dating at Rogue River High School, where Reyes scored 25 touchdowns as a senior and pitched for the baseball team in a tiny Oregon town near the California border.
“A lot of mountain people,” Reyes said. “But I was always training and hanging out with friends who were more involved in sports than hunting, like everyone else.”
Almost 3,000 miles away, the unlikely CSU Bucs aim for a Big South Conference title.
“When you believe in a cause and you believe in something bigger, I think guys play over their heads for that,” Chadwell said. “I really think that’s what we’re doing. We’re not the most talented team out there, but these guys really do have a passion for what they’re doing.”
The family man from rural Oregon sets the tone.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.