“Chris, next time you get a chance to get in, and I believe you will, make sure it counts. Make sure it counts.” - Steve Gleason
Life of a Saint: Chris Reis
“Early life was me, my mom and my older brother. My older brother was my best friend. He was 2 years older than me. As a matter of fact, we are 2 years and 1 day apart. We always had our birthdays together. We were really close knit. It was the three of us and we kind of just survived”, Chris Reis shared. At just two years old, Reis’ parents split, and his father stayed in Ohio while the rest of the family moved to Georgia.
Reis credits his mother for his work ethic and his brother for his competitive nature, stating, “I was always competing with my older brother who would just crush me at everything. I think he kind of helped me develop some grit in my early years.” Reis added, “He always loved me, but he pushed me around. He could beat me at anything, and that competitive drive stayed with me all throughout my life.”
Reis Finds Football
Reis’ football journey started in an unexpected place: right guard. “They were like, ‘Hey. Where do you want to play?’ I was like, “I don’t know.’ So, they put me at right guard.” It didn’t take long for his coaches to figure out what they had in Reis. “What ended up happening was, I started at right guard, but when they would go to defense, I would be on the scout team and ended up playing quarterback and running back. Well, they quickly realized that I was a little bit faster than all the other athletes. I was beating the first team defense when I was on scout team offense. By the end of the season, I ended up playing quarterback and running back and doing all of those things.”
Reis continued his journey into high school where he took notice of some coaches who “poured” into him, not only as a player, but also as a young man. “I had a coach whose name was Dennis Blackstone, who really shaped me. He took on me and a couple other guys. These other guys went on to play in college as well. He would train us. He would work us out. He built this shed and we would grab the dirty weights and the three or four of us would lift weights. He would take us early in the mornings. But he would do more than that. In the mornings, before we would train, he would always share a Bible study with us; a verse with us. He would talk about training us spiritually was just as important, if not more, than training us physically. He was preparing us to be great husbands and fathers and workers in society.”
Reis also went out of his way to mention names like John Cohen and Tim McFarlow as key influencers in shaping the man he would ultimately become.
Reis Stays Local
Despite offers from such prestigious schools as Auburn, Northwestern and North Carolina, Reis would ultimately decide to settle in at Georgia Tech. “’ I just really enjoyed the culture at Georgia Tech, both on the field and off the field. It just felt like it fit”, Reis said. And while Reis did half-heartedly root for the Georgia Bulldogs growing up (his uncles were alumni), his future was with the Yellow Jackets.
Reis then shared the mutual respect between himself and the rival Bulldogs program, offering, “I saw Mark Richt, who was the coach at Georgia at the time. Georgia never offered me a scholarship. I was at a conference my senior year where I was receiving an award and Coach Richt was there as well. He pulled me to the side and he said, ‘Chris, can I be honest with you?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ He said, ‘We missed it on you. We should have picked it up on you and we didn’t.’ He apologized for it. I think it was really fitting for me. If you’re in Georgia, everybody wants to go to Georgia. For him to say he missed it was a big tribute to what God had done for me and what He was accomplishing through me. I love Coach Richt. He’s a great guy too. I have the upmost respect for him.”
A Seemingly Perfect Fit
In Moneyball, Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) utters the line, “How could you not be romantic about baseball?”
While we aren’t talking baseball, it’s hard not to embrace the scenario that unfolded for Chris Reis as he headed into his professional football career. Reis came to Georgia as a toddler. He worked his way through grade school, high school and now college in Georgia. And while Reis wasn’t drafted, his invitation into the NFL from the local Atlanta Falcons was, in fact, quite romantic.
“It was a surreal moment when they called and said, ‘Hey, we want to pick you up. Here you go!’ To stay local, too? I was honored. I was humbled. And so, that moment for me when I got the call, I remember watching the draft. I knew I wasn’t gonna get drafted, but you still want to watch it, just hopefully anyway. I was just keeping that backup call open and, when I got that, I just kind of celebrated that moment. It was a special moment. I dreamed about it my entire life. As a matter of fact, Dennis Blackstone, who really poured into me – was one of those coaches that affected my life, he had us write down a goal we had. ‘Hey, write down a goal of where you want to be in five years.’ I put, ‘I want to be playing in the NFL.’ I put that. So, to be able to do that and be able to say that I accomplished that was really special for me. Really special.”
Unfortunately, Reis’s stay in Atlanta was short lived. “I was upset. I was frustrated. I felt like I really didn’t get a shot. I know a lot of players are, they’re frustrated. For some reason, I never felt like it was over yet.”
And while Reis was still optimistic about his NFL dream when he left Atlanta, he shifted toward what he thought to be a more realistic mindset later that year. Reis offered, “I believed, but come December of 2006, I just said, “I gotta begin moving on.’ I was about to get married in February of 2007. I didn’t stop training, but in my mind, I just said, “Okay. I have to plan for the next step.’”
“I enrolled back in school and it set in. That’s when the Saints called. From there, the rest was history.”
From Europe to New Orleans
Chris Reis trip to Europe with the Cologne Centurions would act as a springboard into his eventual role with the New Orleans Saints. But for the newly married Reis, it was much more than that.
“It’s not glamorous. You don’t get paid a lot of money. But it was a great experience. I can say that I lived in another country for months and played football. It was a great experience.”
Reis juggled his new marriage, online classes for Georgia Tech and playing in NFL Europe simultaneously. Not only that, but he would earn All-World honors in the league’s final season. Reis referred to the NFL Europe as a developmental league, and his work overseas had him physically and mentally peaking at the perfect time to make the jump back into the NFL.
“It was hard going from a spring season of 10 games, having about a month off, and then going right into training camp. That was extremely difficult. But I believe, if I didn’t have that season to prepare, the NFL Europe season, I don’t think I would have gone in there as sharp for the Saints, honestly, in 2007.”
A Special, Special Teamer
Chris Reis would be the first one to tell you that he had opportunities to play defense. And, in certain looks and packages, he did just that. But Sean Payton’s vision for Reis was being a special team specialist, a role Reis embraced.
“I was content. I’ll just be honest with you. You know who really helped me in that was Steve Gleason”, Reis said. He then continued, “Steve really helped me understand that there was a role in a special team guy. While I wanted to play defense, and while I would have loved to be on the field more and help the team more, Steve kind of took me under his wing a little bit. I really asked him a lot of questions. He helped me realize that I can contribute better to the team if I really zeroed in and was content in my role as a special teamer.”
And while Reis doesn’t feel that special teams play as important a role in today’s game as they did during his playing days, he still wears the title like a badge of honor.
2009 and XLIV
“I don’t think anybody knew how good we really had it and how much we were really clicking. The Miami game, where we came back and really showed our grit and our toughness, that was a really big one. I think the Washington game, where we clinched the NFC South, that’s when I knew.”
You could hear the smile on Reis’ face through the phone as he described what transpired during that championship run in 2009. He chuckled as he recalled opponents missing chip shot field goals. As for the Washington game, he simply muttered, “I mean, come on. It just doesn’t happen.”
While it may have appeared to just be some lucky bounces and fortunate events, Reis spoke about the preparation and passion at practice that made Sundays the easiest playing day of the week. “It was intense. With Gregg Williams and Sean Payton, they had a huge rivalry. Though we knew we were all on the same team, that competitive spirit drove us.”
Reis continued to speak about how ruthless the Saints offense and defense were to each other in practice. “And the way that we would go back into the defensive room and break down film, we would vow to each other, ‘We’re not gonna let Drew Brees score on us.’ And we would take it as pride and say, ‘We’re not gonna let Drew Brees in the red zone drills enter our end zone.’ It was a pride stance. Drew knew it and Drew loved it, every aspect of it. Fujita, Vilma, we ate it up. It was one of those moments where you just knew the competitive spirit, the ferocity on this team was so amped up. It didn’t matter who we were playing. The opponent didn’t matter. What mattered was, we wanted to beat the crap out of each other during the week.” Reis then added, “Then, on Sunday, we were family. We were brothers. Whoever was in front of us, we were going to do it 10 times worse to them. That was the attitude we had.”
Reis finished the thought by sharing, “We just had our 10-year reunion a couple years ago. Sean Payton came up to me afterwards and goes, ‘We were just ferocious.’ And we were.”
Make It Count
Chris Reis has told the story of his role in ‘Ambush’ more times than even he can imagine. Whether it was the weight of the pile of players above him, pining the ball against his leg while the hands of both friend and foe clawed at it or the longest 63 seconds of his career, Reis has rehashed that moment from every angle.
But a conversation that happened weeks prior to that moment may have impacted the fate of that play just as much as Jonathan Casillas spearing the pile.
Reis recalled, “For our game against the Cardinals, who we just crushed in the playoffs, I actually was inactive that game. You can stop me if you’ve heard this before. I was inactive for that game and I was really disappointed. I hadn’t been inactive all season. All 16 games I played. But for our first playoff game, I was inactive. I didn’t dress. I was on the sideline, but I was inactive. They had to move some people around because of injuries. I was really frustrated. I was a little bitter. I was almost like, ‘Really Sean? After all 16 games? I’ve slaved over this. I’ve beaten my body and now I don’t get to celebrate in the spoils?’ I was a little bitter. So, I was a little selfish and pouty that game. I wasn’t dressed out and I was in the locker room before the game. Steve Gleason comes walking by and he’s like, ‘Hey man. You okay?’ And I said, ‘Man, you know what? I’m not okay.’ I just kind of shared with him, this really sucks right now. I’m disappointed.’ Steve looked at me and sat down with me and said, ‘Man, I know how you feel. I’ve been up and down. That was my whole career. I get that.’ And he said, ‘Can I share something with you?’ and I said, ‘Please.’ He said, ‘Right before we entered the dome again after Katrina when we played the Falcons, I was inactive.’ I don’t know if he said one or two or three games before. And he goes, ‘I was pissed. I vowed to myself, the next time I get in, I’m gonna do something big.’ Sure enough, probably THE most famous play in Saints’ history is the blocked punt. That was Steve Gleason coming back. He said, ‘Chris, next time you get a chance to get in, and I believe you will, make sure it counts. Make sure it counts.’ And I held onto that. I played in the Vikings game and I even held onto that going into the Super Bowl. Most people don’t realize, going into the Super Bowl, and this might be out there, but there was a really good chance that I was gonna be inactive based upon some injuries and stuff like that. Steve’s voice just rang back in my mind. ‘If you get in, make sure you make it count.’ Steve was a big voice in my life in those earlier years with the Saints and moving forward. I remember that. So, after I made that play and recovered that onside kick, I just kind of flashed back to Steve going, ‘Make sure you make it count when you get in and make sure something big is gonna happen and you’re a part of it.’ You only get a certain amount of plays when you’re a special teams person; maybe, if you’re lucky, maybe 20 plays a game. So, you better make those count.”
8 years ago the @saints won their first Super Bowl. The onside kick we called #AMBUSH, (executed flawlessly by @thomasmorstead) was the ballsiest call in SB history. I wasn’t supposed to be involved in the play but i threw my body in there n got da ball! #whodat #SBXLIV #PoV52 pic.twitter.com/3k2qVcp1OO— Jonathan Casillas (@jcasillas52) February 7, 2018
Life After Football
Reis was sidelined for most of the 2010 season due to a shoulder injury and eventually cut by the Saints in September of 2011. And while he was disappointed with that decision, he was content with what he was able to accomplish in his years in New Orleans, on and off the field. Reis recalled the relationships he had fostered and the connections he had made over that time and how important they were to him.
Reis cited that he did have an opportunity a year later with the Jacksonville Jaguars to get back on the field but noted that he was content with where he was in his life and with what he was able to accomplish as a player.
Reis then began to work on his relationship with his father. The pair would eventually write a book together, aptly titled, “Recovery”. The goal of the book was to not only tell the story of their healing relationship, but also speak about his father’s fight to overcome addiction. But for Reis, the book was more about, “How can this help others?” than it was about telling his story. The father and son duo came up with the motto, “Live for more” during the process of writing the book.
“If you can live for more than yourself, you’re gonna realize very quickly, that your purpose in life isn’t just about you, and what you can acquire, what you can consume. But it’s really what you can give back. And it’s what you can help others with.”
The Job He Can’t Quit
Reis, a man rooted in faith, would eventually become a pastor for Our Savior’s Church in Lafayette, Louisiana. What started out as a simple invitation to come down and speak to the congregation turned into much more for the former Super Bowl champion and current father of five children.
Reis uses his own successes, failures, happiness and pain to relate to his congregation. But he has no delusions that some people may show up initially because the pastor has a Super Bowl ring. And Reis shared that he is perfectly okay with that, jesting that if you want him to sign something or take a picture, you have to attend a service first. There is no denying that Reis is using his impact on the field to positively affect people’s lives through faith.
Reis actually sounded prouder about the impact of his church on his local community than anything he accomplished on the football field. Our Savior’s Church continues to assist families in need, whether it’s relief from hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic, marriage and youth counseling or helping those impacted by any of the many natural disasters the region endures.
If you’d like to help their efforts, please donate at http://www.oursaviorschurch.com or call (337) 839-8889.
As for what’s next for Reis, “I can’t quit because I was never hired. I was called to this. It’s a calling and I believe I was chosen by God to fit this mold, at this spot, in this season, for this church, for these people, for God’s glory.”
Reis plans on continuing to help Lafayette and the surrounding areas through preaching, counseling, and good, old fashioned hard work. And the next time the area needs his help, it’s a safe bet that, in that moment, Reis will rise to the challenge and, “make sure it counts.”
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