Willis wins 2021-2022 Avila Athletics Male Athlete Leader of the Year
Reyes Willis said winning the 2021-2022 Avila Athletics Male Athlete Leader of the Year Award is just the beginning and he plans to finish his master’s degree and keep playing baseball after college.
“I love this game and I want to keep playing for as long as I can,” said Willis, a Choctaw Tribal member. “I love it because it makes me feel like the kid who started playing baseball and thought it was so much fun.”
Willis grew up in the Pearl River Community on the Choctaw Indian Reservation. He said he was born into a baseball family since his father got him into baseball when he coached him and his oldest brother. He graduated from Choctaw Central High School in 2018 and played in the Rec League there and for the Neshoba Braves.
“When the time came for tournament ball, I played with multiple teams,” Willis said. “The Neshoba Braves are the ones I started out with, and then my dad made a tournament team for me for a couple of years. I played in the Jackson area with a team called Mississippi Elite, and played club ball with the East Coast Sox.”
In 2022, Willis turned into one of Avila baseball's most feared hitters, leading the team in home runs (six) and on-base percentage (.432). Willis also ranked second on the team in slugging, total bases, and walks, and finished tied for second in total hits.
According to Avila University, Willis “combined a career year at the plate and on the field with his classic candor and humor while stepping into a leadership role, not just for his team, but in different roles across the athletic department, which is why he was chosen for the award.
Willis is currently working on a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Avila University in Kansas City. He said playing baseball for all these years and making it to this point is truly humbling.
“I never had an end goal except for making it to the majors, and I’ve just been along for the ride with the opportunities that baseball brings me, and for that, I am truly grateful,” Willis said. “The entirety of baseball and what it brings is my passion: friends, lessons, competition, and the work that must be put in.”
“I am grateful for this award because it is something I never sought out to win,” he said. “I have never felt more rewarded in a season than I have this past season. ‘Success happens when opportunity meets preparation’ is a quote I intend to live by for the rest of my life. I've never been the ‘up in your face' type of guy, but I always tried to lead by example of effort, and I didn't really stray from that this past season.”
During the 2022 season, Willis also earned his first career KCAC Gold Glove recognition for his work on third base. He had a .953 fielding percentage, which was fourth-best among any player with at least 70 assists (Willis finished with 95 assists, a top ten mark in the league, and committed just six errors).
Willis plans to continue playing baseball after he graduates from Avila.
“Whether that may be minors, majors, or Indy ball, or whatever opportunity comes my way, I want to take it,” Willis said.