Changing the culture of football at OPRF


Danny Lingen

Bryant practicing for the upcoming season

On the football field, senior captain Naahlyee Bryant takes down the fastest and strongest athletes under the Friday night lights. This summer, Bryant has tackled a new challenge, this one off the gridiron, as he has started a fitness training business, Ball Like Bryant.
Bryant, who is committed to play football next year at Western Michigan University, was looking for some money entering his senior year. “I was looking for a bunch of summer jobs, but working at a Dollar Tree or Buona Beef just wasn’t for me,” he says.
While continuing to look for jobs, Bryant started training his nephew for football. He also took notice of OPRF graduate Zaahir Khalid, who started a soccer and fitness training business over the summer.
“My friend Zaahir is a personal trainer, so I was like why not me,” says Bryant.
To get his vision off the ground, Bryant reached out to OPRF teacher Max Sakellaris for guidance. Sakellaris is also an assistant coach on the varsity football team and has coached Bryant for the last two seasons.
“I used my social media and word of mouth to spread Naahlyee’s training,” says Sakellaris. “Naahlyee did the rest.”
Despite the early momentum, concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic made gaining clients more difficult. “I knew going into it that it was going to be hard to just get parents to say that they will get their kids out during a pandemic,” says Bryant. “But I knew that some people would come around.” Once clients reached out, Bryant held training sessions that complied with the Illinois Department of Public Health’s recommendation of no gatherings of more than 50 people.
The athletes that Bryant trains are either in elementary or middle school and have a variety of interests in fitness. “I know that some of the kids I coach don’t want to play football,” he says. “As long as they get better, that’s all I want to see.”
Bryant also stresses goal-setting with his athletes, no matter how big or small. “I ask them what they want to improve upon, and then we aim toward that goal. And once we reach that goal, we go even further,” he says.
Not only did Sakellaris assist Bryant in promoting the business, but he also gave Bryant one of his first clients in his 8-year-old son. Sakellaris couldn’t be happier with the experience. “If my son grows up to be anything like Naahlyee it would make both my wife and I very happy,” Sakellaris says.
Bryant’s professionalism is felt on the OPRF football team as well, especially for younger players. “Naahlyee is the definition of a real leader, always making sure that people hold themselves accountable,” says teammate Kelby Gray. “Anyone would be lucky to have this man as a teammate.”
As he continues the training sessions into the fall, Bryant will focus on giving back to the football culture in Oak Park. “It’s my legacy to change the (football) culture at OPRF,” he says. “I want the program to thrive, making the playoffs and winning state championships.”
From what started as an unconventional summer job, the Ball Like Bryant business has turned into a way for Bryant to leave a lasting legacy in his community. “I know when I come back from college in the summer, I’m going to do the same thing. I’m going to do this every summer.”