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  • Photo courtesy of UCONN ATHLETICS

    Nashua's Kendall Reyes is expected to tear up opposing offensive lines this season for the University of Connecticut.
Sunday, August 14, 2011

Reyes wants to make that leap from UConn to NFL

There were plenty of highs and lows for the University of Connecticut football program during the month of January.

The Huskies started 2011 by playing in their first BCS bowl game, losing to Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

The day after that game, head coach Randy Edsall, the man who had guided UConn into the Big East and the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A), stepped down to take the same position at Maryland.

Running back Jordan Todman, fresh off rushing for nearly 1,700 yards, decided to leave early for the NFL. Kendall Reyes, a Nashua High School North graduate and an All-Big East defensive tackle, looked like he was right behind Todman.

Reyes threw his name out there for the NFL draft, but according to him, it was nothing more than a fishing expedition.

“I wasn’t going to leave in the first place,” Reyes said. “I just wanted to see where I stood. I wanted to find out what things I needed to work on.

“I knew I wasn’t leaving, but not everyone knows what’s going through my head. From the outside, it looks like it, but I really wasn’t going to leave. You’ve got to learn what they’re looking for. When you figure out what they’re looking for, you know what to work on. I’ve been doing that.”

On Jan. 14, UConn introduced Paul Pasqualoni as Edsall’s replacement. The former Syracuse coach spent the previous six seasons in the NFL, the final three as a defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins and the Dallas Cowboys. Reyes wasted little time learning what he could from Pasqualoni.

“He just came from the NFL, so he has a lot of experience and a lot of perspective,” Reyes said. “He has that professional approach. Coach Pasqualoni, he wants me to dominate the play. He wants more consistency out of me and to use my hands a lot better. There are a lot of things I have to work on. I’m glad he’s here and he’s been a big help.”

From the start at UConn, Reyes knew that’s what the coaches were there to do, to help him become the best player he could be.

“I was really quiet when I first got here because I wanted to listen and I wanted to learn,” he said. “We had great coaches and great players that were here. I tell the rest of the team, listen to the coaches. They’ve been around a long time and they know what they’re talking about. You listen to them because they’re here for you.”

It’s no surprise to Jason Robie, Reyes’ coach at Nashua North, that he would take that approach.

“Once you’re there, you listen and you become a sponge,” Robie said “It’s the same message we tell the young kids here. Listen, learn and do things the right way, and things will work out for you. He has done everything they’ve asked him to do and that’s why he is where he is.”

Where Reyes is is in pretty rare company. He enters his senior year, his fifth at UConn, as a captain for the second season in a row. His name is on the preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy, the Nagurski Trophy, the Lombardi Award and the Lott Award.

And when it’s all over, Reyes could be the first player from Nashua chosen in the NFL draft since Greg Landry in 1968.

“Its mind blowing that a kid from New Hampshire could play in the NFL,” Andre Williams said. “It’s hard to believe.”

Williams has known Reyes for a long time. His older brother was a former teammate of Reyes, and the families are close.

“(Williams) was a little guy and to see him grown up, and go through the same things I was going through, I can give him some advice on some things he has to be smart about,” Reyes said. “He’s going to make his own decisions at the end of the day, but I hope I can give him a little guidance. For him to know that I’ve already been through that, I think he appreciates that. Whatever he ends up doing, I’m supporting him one hundred percent.”

After helping North reach back-to-back Division I championship games, Williams graduated this spring, and is set to begin practice at Dean College later this week. He’s spent most of the summer at the high school, working out on the track and in the weight room, knowing that extra work was going to be necessary to keep up at the next level.

“He was a big influence on me, coming out of Nashua and knowing the things we have in common,” Williams said. “Looking at him and seeing the lifestyle growing up, if I work at it and do just like what he did, can help me.”

Reyes is happy to see both Nashua high school programs return to the level of success that the unified Nashua High School program experienced for so long. A sophomore when the split occurred, Reyes, who considers himself a supporter of Nashua football, had friends at both schools and occasionally will work out at North or South on trips home.

Last fall, when North and South met in a Division I semifinal game, the former Titan was able to make it back and watched as his alma mater defeated the team he’d rooted for as a kid.

“It was cool to see them and how far the teams have come,” Reyes said. “The offense was real exciting. It was like a shootout. It was exciting to see that in my hometown. Football is back in Nashua and I love it.”

One more successful season at UConn, and Reyes could be putting Nashua football on a national stage. Knowing that has certainly brought pressure, but all that did was make Reyes want to become the best football player he could.

“I didn’t want to go somewhere and then not ever play,” he said. “The kind of person I am, I let that motivate me. I didn’t want to be one of those who just made it and didn’t do anything with it.

“I was going to make the best out of my opportunity because a lot people from where I’m from don’t have this opportunity. I want people to know that I’m from New Hampshire.”