Former Pierce football player shares how the sport changed his life

For kids growing up in the streets of Los Angeles, life can be tough. With gang violence and drugs so prevalent, children often grow up in broken families. One of those kids was former Pierce College Brahmas defensive end Elliott Reyes.

“As a youngster I was a troublemaker,” Reyes said. “Growing up I really did not have brothers and sisters. I never knew my father.  All there was, was gang members that were the influence and that just kind of became a lifestyle. From 12 to 18 I was gang banging. That was kind of how I developed my leadership skills as a kid.”

Reyes eventually had enough of the gang scene, after being a part of the Temple Street gang. When he was 18, his childhood friend Gary Gomez was shot and killed by a rival gang member. While standing next to Gomez’s mother at his funeral, Reyes made a life changing decision.

Reyes decided to make changes to his lifestyle and separate himself from gangs for good. Reyes then turn his attention to football and decided that he was going to tryout for Pierce’s football team where he was recruited by head coach Efrain Martinez to play for the Brahmas.

“He was a great leader and he was a great motivator,” Martinez said about Reyes “He lead by example. He was always in the weight room, he was always at the practices. He did the right thing and that’s why people followed him.”

Reyes made an important contribution to Pierce’s defensive line from the start. He joined the team in 2010, that same year Reyes would help the Brahmas win the American Bowl Division Championship. This was also the first  year the Brahmas proved they could not only win championships, but they could also send players on to the next level.

In 2010, 26 student athletes from Pierce received athletic scholarships. Reyes is proud to be part of the first group of student athletes that moved on from Pierce and into other schools through athletics.

“When I look back on my life, I can say I played with Jaelen Strong,” Reyes said.” I competed against division one athletes. It was my generation that got the new tradition of Brahma football going.”

Since 2010, the Brahmas have assisted 87 student athletes in obtaining scholarships to play at four year colleges and universities, including 49 players that have played or now play at Division I schools. Current defensive linemen coach Kort Huettinger, who came to Pierce during the summer of 2011, watched Reyes’ development during his sophomore year and remembers Reyes as being one of the hardest workers on the team.

In the eyes of Huettinger, it was Reyes’ hard work that set the bar high for future teams.

“Elliott brought a lot of work ethic, especially in the weight room,” Huettinger said. “He and a couple of the other guys were big time weight lifters and they pushed the bar high in the weight room. They really made it a competition in there and I think that is really why we have had such a big turnaround. All of a sudden we had guys making weight room a competition. Not just competing on the field but competing in the weight room as well. That and him competing with Gerald Bowman (former safety now at USC) and other guys like Mike Pearson (former fullback who was a walk-on at Texas Tech), it really raised the bar in the weight room. To become Division I athletes, the way to be doing it is in the weight room. Elliott’s leadership on the field was exemplary. He always stepped up, he always did what he was asked. He never asked why, he just got it done and he took care of business on and off the field.”

Reyes, who is now 24, has gone from the streets to being on the verge of graduating from Cal Lutheran University, where he chose to attend to continue his studies following his playing days at Pierce.

During his time off, he volunteers as an assistant coach for the Chatsworth High School football team where he went to high school, and is the team’s defensive line coach as well as strength and conditioning coach. Not only does he coach for the love of the game, but he also does it to encourage his students to stay away from gangs and drugs.

“It’s funny because I’m back at my old stomping grounds where I showed a lot of deviance,” Reyes said. “Now that I’m here as an adult, helping kids is really life fulfilling.”

Reyes had an important part in helping develop the Chatsworth football program in recent months. The Chancellors had been an afterthought in the past few years, but an upset win over University High School in the city section Division II playoffs and making it all the way to the city semifinals changed things.

Reyes thinks that he can help develop the team and make them better than they were before. He not only wants to change the football team, but change the culture as well, which includes upgrading some of Chatsworth’s old facilities such as the football field.

“We’re really changing it up there,” Reyes said. “I’m trying to make Chatsworth the powerhouse it was when Matt Cassel (former Chatsworth QB who played at USC and currently plays for the Minnesota Vikings) was here. I’m really excited to see what we are going to do this season. One of our goals is to try and win the big lineman competition to try to see what we can do. The facilities here are really bad, so I really want to win first place so then we could start getting some donations and support and help those kids be successful. If we start to win, then the administrators at the school will start taking notice. One of my goals when I’m coaching here is to try and get a new football field.”

Chatsworth football head coach Andrew Kim has been delighted with the results since Reyes’ began helping out at practices.

“He has a lot of intensity,” Kim said. “Kids look up to him because he has got it done on his own. He was a great football player. He has great work ethic. He is a monster in the weight room and the techniques that he is showing our defensive line has really brought the hunger into this defense.”

True to form, Reyes coaches football the way he played it during his days at Cal Lutheran and Pierce; with passion. His voice is heard when he speaks, as he coaches he looks like an older brother coaching 11 players trying to fulfill the assignment that is given to them on each play.

During the one of the teams practice, a scuffle broke out between two competing players. Reyes stepped in, told the players to shake hands and yelled during the practice, “You see that? That kind of intensity shows to me that you guys are working hard. Guys are competing and that’s football.”

Chatsworth assistant coach Chris Nelson, who has coached for 35 years, loves Reyes’ passion and thinks his presence has helped better the Chatsworth team.

“He’s very motivating and he relates well with the kids,” Nelson said. “He’s doing a great job as far as discipline and where the kids need to be.

Reyes can now reflect on his life and where he is now compared to where he could have been, had he not changed his lifestyle. He has become a leader and a mentor to many people inside of football and outside, helping kids who are growing up in the same environment as he did.

“I never thought that I would be here, standing in front of this stadium and giving an interview about my life,” Reyes said. “I’ve seen a lot of guys who aren’t even here now to speak and they had a lot of potential. I believe in destiny and I feel like I’m here for a reason and I’m playing ball here for a reason. I’m inspiring my community. I’ve been a leader everywhere I went. I was captain of Pierce College. I’m a leader here at Cal Lutheran. I’ve been able to get four guys here from Pierce scholarships. Everything I’ve done, everywhere I’ve gone, I have helped other people and the degree that I’m pursuing allows me to help other people. Lately I just feel like I’m in the business of saving lives. A pastor goes to preach and I go out to save kids from what is happening here in LA and all the gangs. That is my calling in life and it is an honor to have all these titles.”