Thursday, August 12, 2004 Updated: August 20, 12:18 PM ET
Reyes no longer in the shadow
By Myron P. Medcalf Special to ESPN.com
Syracuse RB Walter Reyes is a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate and he still gets asked about a relative that hasn't played football in more than a year-and-a-half.
But now that his cousin -- former Ohio State RB Maurice Clarett -- has faded from the spotlight after his failed attempt to enter April's NFL draft a year early, Reyes is emerging as the best back in the family.
The Struthers, Ohio, native has garnered national attention after running through the Big East as a sophomore in 2002 (1,135 yards, 17 TDs) and a junior in 2003 (1,347 yards, 20 TDs). And he is poised to improve upon his last two performances in a conference that lost its first- and fourth-best rushing defenses in Miami and Virginia Tech respectively.
Walter Reyes' return will give Syracuse a major boost.
But Reyes, which translates to "king" in Spanish, is quick to note that both teams had trouble containing him.
"I don't have any control over them leaving," Reyes said. "But I had 100 yards on both of them (in 2002)."
Cocky? No. But he is honest and genuine both on the field and off, according to teammates.
"Through all of this, he hasn't changed a bit," said SU center and co-captain Matt Tarullo.
He doesn't mind answering questions about Clarett, but the misdirected attention shows how a superb player on a mediocre team can easily get overlooked.
The Orange finished last season with a 6-6 record overall, 2-5 in the Big East. So even when Reyes reigned, his performances were sometimes undermined by a loss or undervalued against a defective opposing defense (see 241 yards on the ground and four touchdowns against a Central Florida team that allowed 191.6 rushing ypg).
Although he did what he could to give his team a chance to win, Reyes thinks that he should've done more.
"There are always things you think you should have done like 'I should have scored more touchdowns,'" Reyes said. "But sometimes things just don't fall your way. Little things have gotten us for the past few seasons. But we never give up. That's why I love this team."
If Syracuse can capitalize off of a stacked backfield, which now includes junior RB Damien Rhodes who was injured in '03, and climb up the conference ladder then Reyes' award-nominations list will grow.
Unlike last season, he will share carries with Rhodes, who set an SU freshman record for all-purpose yardage (1,268), but he welcomes his presence.
"It helps having him because defenses usually key in on stopping me," Reyes said. "It will keep me fresh. And then in the fourth quarter we'll (both be 100 percent)."
But the Heisman hype hasn't halted his ultimate goals: winning the Big East Conference, getting his team to a Jan. 1 bowl game and running away with the Doak Walker Award.
"It's great but I can't dwell on it for too long," Reyes said.
He's right not to bank on the collegiate glory that the Heisman brings its recipients. History isn't on Reyes' side. Ernie Davis (RB) is the only player in SU history to win the award (1961), which is surprising when considering NFL greats Larry Csonka, Floyd Little and Jim Brown all carried the load for the Orangemen.
However, if he has another standout season, cameramen and reporters will swarm Syracuse, N.Y. But coach Paul Pasqualoni is confident that his team anchor -- he was also the second-leading receiver in '03 -- will be able to handle the attention and stay focused.
"I think that Walter knows what it takes to win and I think he knows what his distractions can be," Pasqualoni said. "If you said to (Reyes), 'What's the most important thing?' he'd say, 'The team.' That's the great thing about the game of football. The more the team succeeds the better it is for everybody. I think Walter is a firm believer in that philosophy."
The only things standing in the way of another successful year for Reyes are a few D-lines, DBs and LBs, but he's been good at getting around and through those guys for the last two seasons.
Maybe Maurice Clarett should keep his phone on this season, just in case someone wants to ask him about his cousin in New York.