Reams hoping to give back with speech pathology career

Reams hoping to give back with speech pathology career

CHAMPAIGN — Caleb Reams always took his schoolwork seriously. It was part of his makeup.

"My parents raised me to be a good student," Reams said.

Just to make sure, Lisa and Louis Reams offered a few incentives.

"I got rewarded for grades," Reams said. "My first cell phone came from getting a 4.0 in the seventh grade."

Reams brought his academic attitude to college. The Illinois junior tight end plans to become a speech therapist.

It isn't a field often picked by football players.

"I know I'm the only one now and I think I'm the only one in the past five years," Reams said.

Reams first considered the profession as a high school senior. His AP psychology teacher, Sean Mahoney, suggested the possibility.

"When I looked into it, I was like, 'Wow, this is amazing. This is exactly what I want to do,'" Reams said.

He had already applied to Illinois, where he had a scholarship offer from Tim Beckman.

"A lot of my high school teachers, when they heard I had a scholarship to the University of Illinois, they were like, 'Oh, you can't waste it. You can't choose some lower-level major that isn't going to get you a good job,' " Reams said. "I was like, 'I never planned on that. I want to do great on the field and great off the field.' "

He started in general studies, then switched after his freshman year to a speech and hearing science major with a concentration in speech-language pathology.

"Honestly, I didn't know that much about it," Reams said. "I thought it was just speech therapy. But there is so much more."

Giving back

The field offers the chance to work with adults, either in the home, at a clinic or in a hospital. But Reams wants to specialize in helping children.

"I've always been a kids' person," Reams said. "I babysit a local kid and we always have a great time. I know how to interact with them a lot."

The bottom line for Reams: he wants a job where he can help people.

"That was my main thing," Reams said. "I pride myself on being there for people. It was big for me knowing that I will be able to change people's lives. Because people have changed my life growing up. I want to be able to do the same thing."

His dad has preached for years "if you love your job, it's not really a job."

Reams found that in speech therapy.

"I love football and I love this, too," Reams said.

Staying busy

His program is demanding.

Reams will earn his undergrad degree in May, then start on his master's. He has to complete a two-year program before he can start working.

There is another step. Therapists are required to earn a Certificate of Clinical Competency.

In 2019, Reams hopes to be finishing his Illinois football career while also working on his advanced degree. Another challenge.

"A little less free time, if there's any free time left," Reams said.

Reams said his football work has a positive impact on his studies.

"You have to deal with adversity in everything," he said. "Football teaches that firsthand. Listening and communicating with people all the time, I'm going to be communicating with a kid, trying to help them with speech."

He's happy to have a plan. Some football players start college with a lone goal: reach the NFL. But the odds are long.

"Everybody is starting to really realize that you need a plan after football," Reams said. "Football could be done with you before you're done with football."

Balancing act

Reams is on his third head coach at Illinois. All three have emphasized the importance of academics.

He signed with Beckman, played for Bill Cubit and stayed with Lovie Smith.

"Academics was a big part of why I chose UI," Reams said. "Also, because I was able to play at the Big Ten level, which has always been a dream of mine."

Playing college football is a lot of fun. And a lot of work. Fans read about the glamour stuff: touchdowns, TV and travel. They don't see the guys spending most of Sundays in their books, trying to stay ahead of their classwork.

"College sports is more than what people see on the outside," Reams said. "It's literally two full-time jobs during the school year. I don't know how many people in the work world work two full-time jobs. And we're doing that at 18 to 23 years old."

During an average day, Reams figures he has at least three hours of studying. There is little free time "like normal students." No hanging out on the Quad, tossing a Frisbee.

"I hung out on the Quad once on a Sunday for an hour or so," Reams said.

Reams mixes in with the non-football playing students in class.

"I have plenty of friends that aren't affiliated with a sport," Reams said.