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June 09, 2022

Imhotep Charter’s Jamir Reyes took a remarkable journey to West Point

Jamir Reyes knew something had happened the moment he heard his brother screaming downstairs. He was taking a shower after football practice, and the shouts were so loud that they pierced through the bathroom door and over the running water, “He’s been shot! He’s been shot!”

The news that Jose Reyes III, Jamir’s father, was shot reached the family the night of July 18, 2017. Jamir, 13 at the time, was taken immediately to a friend’s house, only to find out later that night what occurred. His aunt picked him up and he sat there numb in the passenger's side seat of the car trying not to believe the words he heard — his father died of his wounds.

To this day, Jamir has problems accepting it. There was some anger and confusion he had to overcome. Compounding that is growing up in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, where Reyes hears gun shots echoing out into the night a few times a month.

In a few weeks, Jamir won’t hopefully have to concern himself with that anymore — since the 6-foot, 185-pound Imhotep Charter safety is heading to prestigious West Point on a football scholarship.

Jamir, 17, is the living embodiment of an amazing peregrination that he never been defined as impossible. He’s someone whose father was killed by gun violence and raised by his mother, Janice George, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. He took the SAT four times to reach the 1,000 score to qualify for West Point and once was about 30 seconds away from being shot himself one day walking home from football practice. He’ll be the first member of his family going to college.

And it’s at West Point.

He’s been fortunate to have a strong, unrelenting support system, which includes his mother, older brother, Jose Reyes IV, Imhotep head coach Devon Johnson and assistant coaches Patrick Fisher and Nafis Muhammad. As a group, they’ve enforced the same message, and many times were extremely hard on Jamir, who’s Puerto Rican, Caucasian and Black.

Many times, Jamir didn’t like how stern they were with him.

But he understood the point — and if they weren’t, he knows, he wouldn’t be heading to West Point.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when coaches couldn’t interact as closely with their players, Reyes would work out on his own, setting up video that he would send to Johnson for input. There were countless times Jamir would train in a local park at night, doing cones and skill drills.

“I didn’t get babied when I went to Imhotep, I had to work for my spot to play,” said Reyes, who was also getting attention from Temple, UConn and Akron. “I’ll admit there were times when I didn’t like what was being said, but my coaches all pushed me to become better and they instilled that work ethic in me. Babying me was not going to prepare me for West Point. I didn’t like my coaches at first. I was used to being the star player, but coach Devon always got on me about nothing in life is free; that you always have to work hard, regardless, on the field and off.”

Reyes carries a 3.5 GPA. He visited West Point this time last year and was blown away.

“I got emotional afterwards, because I didn’t know where I was going to college and when I got the offer from West Point, I jumped on it,” Reyes said. “I got emotional because I looked where I was, and I look at what I’ve become. This is a great opportunity that’s the best decision of my life. When I committed, my teammates were kind of joking with me about it, that I’ll be going in the military. The military experience going to West Point I know won’t be easy and in the long run, it’s going to make me a better man.”

Johnson finished his eighth year at Imhotep and third year as head coach after leading the Panthers to the PIAA Class 5A state finals in December. He has seen his share of hardship cases. He first became aware of Reyes his freshman year. He noticed the quiet kid stayed with the older players. Imhotep had four Division I-level defensive backs at the time.

“Jamir worked his behind off to make sure he put those guys on alert and I was not easy on me,” Johnson admitted. “Jamir went through a traumatic experience that he had every built-in excuse not to be successful. He was not willing to accept any crutch. The kid wore a smile on his face every single day and he continued to work, and work, and work. His mother is always pushing him and she doesn’t want to lose him to the streets of Philly.

“Jamir is driven. I think that drive comes from just wanting to be successful. He’s not from the greatest neighborhood, and the lesson he learned came from other people around him being successful. He also has a genuine love for football. I watched him work out every day by himself to work on his man coverage. That work ethic is part of his DNA. He’s a special kid, with amazing determination and grit.”

Reyes helped the Pennsylvania squad beat Maryland, 28-7, in the 65th Big 33 Classic on Memorial Day at Bishop McDevitt (Harrisburg) Rocco Ortenzio Stadium. Johnson was still on Reyes, all-star game or not, and the safety responded well by breaking up a few passes. Afterward, Reyes came across someone wearing an Army/West Point football jersey. “You know I’m going there,” Reyes told him.

Reyes will be graduating Imhotep on June 11. He’s heading to West Point on July 11. Inside his left bicep is a tattoo honoring his father, etched into his skin, “RIP Dad, July 18, 2017.”

“I don’t have to look far for motivation,” Jamir said. “I have keep pushing myself. I learned to channel the anger I had after my father died. I know that pain won’t go away. I know a lot of kids who let their anger eat them up. I used it. I used it for football and school. I know my dad would be proud.”

Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has been writing for PhillyVoice since its inception in 2015 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.