BOONEVILLE — The glow of the orange sun is sinking behind the tree tops west of the Booneville High School football practice. The grass is yellow; there is a chill in the air.
High school football practice on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving brings a sliver of a smile to coach Scott Hyatt's face.
In the throng of players running post-practice wind sprints, Bearcat defensive standout Noah Reyes is all smiles, his curly black hair protruding from his helmet. The 16-year-old has plenty of reason to celebrate today over a plate of turkey, green bean casserole and mashed potatoes lathered in giblet gravy.
A week shy of his 17th birthday, Noah Reyes didn't grow up in a Norman Rockwell setting. There were parents and siblings, and there was love and understanding.
But stability often eluded him.
"I can ride around town and point out 50 different houses I've stayed in," Reyes said.
Reyes speaks in a past-tense tone, afraid to believe his current situation isn't some sort of dream.
But first, there are cookies.
Standing next his locker, Reyes is holding three homemade peanut butter cookies and a bottle of water as teammates scurry toward the exit for the quick drive home.
"I love it here; we all play as a family," says Reyes, a hulk of kid whose cat-like instincts on the football field are the kind of things coaches can't teach.
"His motor never stops," beams Booneville assistant coach Doc Crowley. "When he wants to play, no one can block him. He had an interception the other day that set up the game-winning field goal — he one-handed it. He does that stuff in practice all the time.
"Since I've been here, he's been one of the best defensive players to come through here."
Friday night, people will pack Bearcat Stadium for what figures to be a clash of titans when the Booneville plays host to Pea Ridge in the 4A quarterfinals.
There are no guarantees in life or football. And no one knows this better than Reyes.
Last summer, as his own family was going through some problems, Reyes was in between houses.
Crowley, who had long ago befriended Reyes as a curious 6-year-old, didn't just offer the kid with curly hair advice — he gave him a key to his house.
But first, Crowley had to get the blessing of his wife Emily. Young parents to 2½-year-old daughter, Baker, the Crowleys expected that taking in a vivacious teenager meant some serious life changes.
"When I first approached my wife, I was expecting her to be a little hesitant," Crowley said. "But she had known Noah and his sister (Layla) since elementary school. She really loved both of them.
"She's been awesome about it."
Friday night, as they've done every game this season, Emily and Baker will dutifully don their No. 59 Noah Reyes jerseys as the Bearcats charge onto the field.
"It's been unbelievable," Crowley said. "Baker and Emily, her family and my family, they sit up there wearing Noah's jersey. After the game, she's (Baker) always asking, 'Where's Noah?'
"She goes right to him and usually gets her picture taken with him."
"He's (Crowley) got a little girl, but he (Reyes) needed somebody that cared about him," Hyatt said. "He's bounced around. I'm not going to have a kid on the street."
Because of the unusual circumstances, the Crowleys became Reyes' legal guardians.
"I couldn't ever thank him enough for what he's done for me," Reyes said. "Me and him, we've always been close together."
One sunny day last summer, as Reyes was settling into his new digs, he returned to the Crowleys' home and found 10 pairs of matching new clothes neatly laid out on his bed. The Crowleys had also penned a letter to their new house guest.
Noah Reyes had a room, walls covered with Booneville football pictures, and new clothes.
"The first week I stayed there, I guess I was at practice and I came home a little later, and when I came in there (his room) there were probably 10 different pairs of clothes on my bed and a thank you letter from them," Reyes said. "They've really taken care of me."
Reyes' mom, Pamela King, lives in Hot Springs. His dad, Nester (Benny) Reyes resides in Booneville.
There are two younger siblings, 8-year-old Levi and 4-year-old Nevaeh. "Nevaeh, I haven't talked to her in about a year, and my brother, Levi, I talked to him for the first time in three years about two weeks ago," Reyes said. "He was staying in Bull Shoals, but he just moved to Waldron with his dad."
Last spring, toward the end of his sophomore year, Reyes was scuffling, including in the classroom.
"It was mostly teenager stuff," Reyes said. "I was letting my grades slip."
Doc and Emily have emphasized homework, staying ahead of the curve. They're also after him to take the ACT (American College Testing) college readiness assessment.
Crowley believes Reyes can play at the next level.
"He's a great kid with a huge heart," Crowley said. "A lot of people, they just see the football player. I've know him since little league, but being around him, you get to see how good a kid he is. We've been on him about his ACT (test). He's wanting to go play at the next level, and he's got a great chance to do that.
"We want to get him that opportunity."