It was when he was interviewing for a job as an assistant volleyball coach at Nebraska that Jaylen Reyes began to understand that not all of the 334 NCAA Division I volleyball programs operate like the Huskers do.
The interview process was extensive. There was a preliminary video interview, talent assessment, simulated scouting breakdowns and meetings with players and administrators.
“The amount of time that was put into my job interview it was like, ‘Wow, this really matters,’” said Reyes during an interview in his office after a day of working a Nebraska volleyball camp.
“I know for a lot of schools for a second assistant it’s like, ‘OK, we have a couple of interviews on the phone, and that’s pretty much it.’ This was really well planned out.”
Reyes later accepted the job. This is just his second full-time coaching job, making the jump from being an assistant for the BYU men’s team the past three seasons.
Then another sign of the emphasis put on volleyball here came later. During his first month on the job Nebraska coach John Cook sent Reyes to Japan by himself. Maybe the biggest question about Reyes is that he’s never coached a women’s team, so by sending Reyes to Japan he got to study how women’s professional players are coached.
And in a sport where the difference between winning and losing can be very small – remember Nebraska was one point away from getting beat by Penn State in the national semifinals last season, but went on to win the national championship – Cook is always trying to give the Huskers its best chance to be successful.
“Sending me to Japan was like, ‘Wow,” Reyes said. “That’s a big time financial commitment to just send your new second assistant to Japan for six days, kind of on a whim. It’s not like it was planned out for a year.”
Reyes has been on the job for about one month. He was hired in March, but BYU was in the middle of its season, and Cook wanted Reyes to finish the season.
Just a few weeks into the job is when Cook sent Reyes to Japan. Cook has a lot of respect for how volleyball is played and coached there. Reyes spent time with the Ageo Medics, a pro team based near Tokyo that former Husker Nancy Metcalf played for.
Cook often puts players in uncomfortable situations in practice to help them improve. This time he did so with his new coach.
“From probably now until the end of the first year everything is going to be a little out of my comfort zone, to be honest, and sending me to Japan was kind of the start of that,” Reyes said. “I don’t speak Japanese, no one really speaks English, I don’t know anybody there and I’m going to volleyball practices and they’re doing stuff that I’ve never seen, like drills and what they talk about.
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“I think it was just getting me used to, ‘Hey, this might be different from what you think Jaylen, or this might be run differently or you might not understand, maybe literally, but that’s OK. You’ll figure it out.’”
When Cook asked Reyes to make the trip he was excited. He’d never been there, and the Nebraska players were off from training, so he wasn’t missing much back in Lincoln.
Reyes will coach the middle blockers and be the defensive coordinator. Japanese teams have has been known for playing great defense, and this was another chance for Reyes to learn.
“They usually don’t have the most physical people in the world, so they kind of have to be successful some other way,” Reyes said. “And that’s really more the style that women play, versus men just go up and hammer the ball at the net with 6-foot-8 guys. I go in that professional gym on a good team and I’m the tallest person there by a mile, and this team is still pretty successful in a good league. They obviously have a style that works, and I think that’s a style that you can apply to the women’s game for sure.”
Reyes is 25 years old and got an early start in coaching. He was 21 when he was hired as an assistant coach at BYU just a few months after his college playing career there ended. That was one of the things that impressed Cook. He’d never met Reyes until he began the process of replacing Tyler Hildebrand, who left to work with the United States beach volleyball teams.
“I’m not sure how many players I would hire the day they were finished playing here to be an assistant coach,” Cook said. “I just think that’s a big compliment to him.”
Within the past year Reyes began to think about making the switch to women’s volleyball. There are a lot more opportunities in women’s volleyball. There is only about 40 schools playing men’s volleyball, with probably fewer than eight elite programs. Reyes had noticed that when many athletic directors hire women’s head coaches they favor candidates with experience coaching women.
Reyes decided if a good opportunity in the women’s game came along he’d consider it. Then he got a text message from Cook. He told Reyes that he was starting a list of candidates, and was he interested?
“I think I just said, ‘Hell yeah,’” Reyes said.
One of Cook’s connections in men’s volleyball told him that Reyes was the next coach for Cook to take a look at. Cook had hired Hildebrand from men’s volleyball, and although his tenure was short, it was successful.
When Cook called to offer Reyes the job he was in Honolulu with BYU for a tournament, which was special because that’s where he grew up.
Reyes is glad he was the next in line for a job like this.
“Once John texted me it was a no-brainer,” Reyes said. “I said at first if a good opportunity on the women’s side came. I never thought this would come around. This is probably the best opportunity in the country.”