Two weeks before the 2012 NFL Draft, Kendall Reyes hopped on a plane, crossed the country to San Diego, met with Chargers brass, and returned home extremely impressed with the franchise.
The feeling, as Reyes learned last Friday night, was mutual.
The former University of Connecticut defensive lineman, a product of Nashua North (N.H.) High School, was selected in the second round by the Chargers. Taken off the board with the 49th overall pick, Reyes became the latest notable Nashuan to reach the NFL.
Greg Landry, the 11th overall pick by the Lions in 1968, tops the list. Landry played 146 games in his 15 seasons split between the Lions, Baltimore Colts and Chicago Bears. Far more recently, Kole Ayi appeared in one game for the Patriots as an undrafted rookie during the team's first Super Bowl season in 2001.
But being drafted in the age of social media and non-stop coverage of the nation's most popular sport? Reyes knows his situation is different.
“It means a lot for the state, for people that grew up in this area,” Reyes said after returning from a post-draft meeting with Chargers. “To me, being a second-round pick, there's lots of high hopes and some pressure on me to perform well. I'm going to do everything in my power to do the best I can.”
Reyes said his family rented a house in York, Maine, for the draft. He was surrounded by 30 family members and 10 close friends when the Chargers came calling – moments before news of his landing spot was announced to a nationwide television audience.
Many draft analysts pegged Reyes as a mid-second-round pick. When the round started and teams made their selections, the 6-foot 4-inch, 299-pound All-Big East star said he was anxious.
“There are a lot of emotions that you feel at one time,” said Reyes, among San Diego's seven-man draft class. “But it was a huge sense of relief once I got the call. They all talk to you. The GM [A.J. Smith], coach [Norv] Turner, the owner [Dean Spanos]. They all talk to you.”
That phone call kick-started a whirlwind weekend for Reyes. Hours after the Chargers chose him, the 22-year-old boarded a 5:30 a.m. flight for the West Coast.
“It's been busy. Been on the go. Not much sleep. The whole nine,” said Reyes, now preparing for the team's upcoming mini-camp.
'SUCH AN ATHLETE'
It stands to reason that a second-round pick who hails from New Hampshire – hardly a hotbed for NFL talent – would have been considered one of the state's best as a high school senior.
That wasn't the case with Reyes.
NHIAA Division I coaches didn't vote him a first- or second-team all-state selection in the fall of 2006, his senior season at Nashua North.
“There were times we had to tell him to play harder or hustle more,” North head coach Jason Robie said. “But that's every kid.”
Robie stressed that Reyes was young for his class year, just 17 when graduating in the spring of 2007. North's coach said Reyes was “very raw, but had some ability.”
“When you looked at a kid like Kendall, he had the tools,” said Robie, who played football at the University of New Hampshire. “It was whether he had the initiative or the drive. That was the big question.”
No coach disputes that Reyes – a varsity letter-winner in football, basketball and track – was gifted athletically from the time he arrived at North as a sophomore in 2004-05. (At the time, the high school was in its second year of existence and ninth-graders attended various Nashua middle schools, Robie said.)
In fact, multiple coaches can quickly recall Reyes as a teenager. Nowhere near 300 pounds, he was taller than many and quicker than most.
“We certainly remember him because he was such an athlete. And [North's coaches] moved him here, there and everywhere,” said Brian O'Reilly, the 10-time Division I champion head coach at Derry's Pinkerton Academy. “But he was a different body build back then, and he was playing different positions.”
As a 6-foot-3, 210-pound sophomore, and then a slightly bulked-up junior, Reyes played outside linebacker and receiver. Still catching passes as a senior, the Titans turned him into a defensive end.
North's coaches felt they could generate an effective pass rush with Reyes – then 6-4, 230 – playing on the edge.
Plus, defensive end was the position Reyes projected to play at the next level. Various Division I college programs had expressed interest.
Robie said Reyes received scholarship offers from Football Championship Subdivision schools, UNH among them. UConn, new to the Football Bowl Subdivision, also offered a scholarship.
“He was an extremely athletic player,” O'Reilly said, “who reached his potential in college.”
When Reyes was being recruited, the process was new to Robie. Trying to help Reyes make the best decision often left North's coach asking himself, and his assistants, the same question:
“What do we do here?” said Robie, initially figuring UNH and the FCS level might be the better fit for his player.
Robie reached out to O'Reilly.
Pinkerton's coach since 1978 mentored several of the state's most heralded high school football legends. Three, in particular, were mid-1980's stars Ryan Mihalko (Notre Dame) and Joe Segreti (Holy Cross), and early-1990's standout Matt Jordan (UMass).
The coaches exchanged e-mails. But Robie never mentioned his player by name.
“I wanted to see if he knew,” Robie said. “I just said, 'I have a young man being looked at by UNH and UConn. I remember the reply was, 'Who's that?'”
O'Reilly's question, however, was followed by a vote for the Big East.
“His response was, 'You never know unless you try,'” Robie said.
BIG EAST BEAST
Reyes red-shirted his freshman year at UConn and began the process of drastically beefing up his body. He started the last four games of the 2008 campaign.
Starts along the defensive line tripled his sophomore season. As a junior captain, he started all 13 games, alternated between defensive end and tackle, and earned an All-Big East first-team selection with 2 ½ sacks and 10 tackles for a loss.
The 46 total tackles he registered as a senior included 4 ½ sacks and 13 ½ tackles for a loss. Such production earned him a second consecutive all-conference first-team nod.
Reyes said the college game quickly taught him to “be more decisive. Always be aggressive.”
“In high school, I was usually one of the fastest guys on the field. In college, that wasn't the case at all,” he said. “I was fast for my position. But you had guys running all over the place.”
It's no secret why Reyes was selected by San Diego.
“They drafted me because of my versatility. But it's still very early. The more I know, the more I can pick up, the more spots I'll play,” Reyes said before dismissing the notion that he wished the Patriots, owners of the 48th pick, had drafted him.
Robie believes Reyes is suited to play multiple positions, in multiple defensive packages, along the line. He can play in the 3-4 or 4-3. He can stand up or be a threat off the edge. He can drop into coverage on a zone blitz.
The upside for Reyes, in other words, is considerable.
By the ex-Titan's own admission, taking advantage of this enormous opportunity rests squarely on his broad shoulders. He is determined to do it.
“I'm on the furthest team possible from New Hampshire,” Reyes said. “At this point, none of that matters. The opportunity to play on Sunday is the most important thing.”
Marc Thaler is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter: @marc_thaler.