Haley Kalil always wanted to be a model. But until recently, she was convinced it was never, ever going to happen.
“When I was little, I watched ‘America’s Next Top Model,’ and would practice all the poses on the playground,” the 26-year-old said on the set of her photo shoot for The Post. “But I was like, the stereotypical nerd. I had glasses, I had the weird haircut … in my head, there were so many roadblocks in the way.”
Then, in November 2017, the path suddenly cleared. Kalil appeared in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue as one of six finalists from the magazine’s open casting call.
The Minnesota native went on to win the competition — alongside 2019 Swimsuit Issue cover girl Camille Kostek — and was featured as a rookie in the 2019 issue, alongside veteran bikini babe Paulina Porizkova and Kalil’s longtime idol, Tyra Banks.
Snacking on a pre-breakfast bodega haul of Bugles and Diet Dr. Pepper, Kalil said that her biggest setback as an aspiring model came in 2010, when she was 17. To her shock, she won the Miss Minnesota Teen USA pageant, which she entered because she wanted to put the prize money toward college.
It was her second-ever pageant, and she said both experiences helped her see herself as something other than “the weird kid.”
“After the first pageant, somebody came up to me and was like, ‘you are so pretty!’ It hit me, like, ‘I am?!’” she said, adding that she had been bullied in school for so long that it was hard to feel good about her looks. But her on-stage success helped her muster the confidence to approach a modeling agency.
Unfortunately, it didn’t go well. A rep asked her height and weight, and then told her, “You’re gonna need to be a couple of inches taller and a couple of inches smaller.”
As Kalil recalled, “After that, I was like, okay, I’m not a model.”
So, the daughter of two engineers went all-in on her other passion: science. At St. Cloud University, she double-majored in biomedical science and psychology, with a minor in chemistry. Kalil worked as an immunology lab tech after college and was planning to take the MCAT when she spotted the Sports Illustrated casting call on Instagram.
She was so excited that, immediately, she filmed a cute but no-frills audition video and uploaded it from a hotel room in Lake Tahoe, Calif.
By then, the 5-foot-7-inch beauty was already married to Matt Kalil, a pro football player who she met while on a Tinder date with his buddy.
“It was the world’s worst date,” Kalil said, laughing. “He kept telling me how one of his friends lived so close to [the restaurant] and I was like, ‘Invite him!’ [Matt] was my way out.” (There are no hard feelings, she added — the three are all still good friends.)
Her husband now plays for the Houston Texans, which means that the couple — who tied the knot just four months after they started dating, in 2015 — and their three dogs split time bouncing between Texas, Minnesota and New York.
Kalil is quick to point out that her modeling career is still new and she doesn’t know what will happen in the coming years. She hopes there’s plenty more work to come from Sports Illustrated and beyond.
But she also knows it could all end as quickly as it began— in which case, Kalil would study to be a physician’s assistant.
“I’m very grateful, and not just because it’s a chance to be like, ‘haters, I did it!’” she joked. “But because I’m literally living my dream.”
Photos: Tamara Beckwith/NY Post; Stylist: Emma Pritchard; Hair/Makeup: T. Cooper/crowdMGMT using ECRU New York; Location: Dream Downtown, 355 W 16th St. NY, NY.
By Rachelle Bergstein