Hector Zepeda holds his face up high, his eyes always fixed forward. When speaking, his sentences are short but with a firm tone of voice, as if each word counts so as not to exceed a certain number of yards. Despite the fact that he lives the greatest opportunity of his life, he never loses control of his way of being and all because of one thing: American football.
Zepeda Hernandez is the third Mexican selected by the NFL’s International Track Program (IPP), so over the next 10 weeks he will be in the orbit of the 32 best players on the NFL roster on the planet, waiting to be drafted into a reserve team as It happened with Isaac Alarcon (Dallas Cowboys) and Alfredo Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers).
In an interview with The EconomistHector Zepeda describes himself as “a disciplined, serious and simple man who tries to do what he says”. Discipline is the main quality that has left him playing the sport for 9 years and this allows him today to be in the 2022 IPP class, along with 12 other players from France, UK, Brazil, Nigeria, Germany, Netherlands, Austria and Latvia.
“I started playing when I was 14, in my third year of high school, I had already grown up. Since then, there is a core that American football has never lost and it has left me many values: discipline, punctuality, respect and work, but what left me More is all the people I’ve met in these nine years, from different cultures and histories matching in one place.”
Hector plays an offensive lineman, a position that has had six foreigners during the current season: Benny Sewell (American Samoa / Detroit Lions), Jordan Melata (Australia / Philadelphia Eagles), Max Percher (Italy / Los Angeles Rams), Matt Burt ( Jamaica/New York Giants), Choco Okorafor (Nigeria/Pittsburgh Steelers) and Mexican Isaac Alarcon with the Cowboys. Of the 13 selected at the 2022 IPP, eight (including Zepeda) play in this position.
What difference can a Mexican in your positioning make to the NFL?
“I carry the hard work that all Mexicans do, and the Mexican is known to be a hard worker and knows how to take advantage of opportunities. My goal is to work hard, do everything I can, until there is nothing left in me, learn from the coaches and other athletes, and what things they do them well and what I can learn from them.”
Zepeda Hernandez, originally from Tijuana, Baja California, spent the last six years of his life at Tecnológico de Monterrey, where he graduated in Industrial and Systems Engineering and recently studied a master’s degree in Finance. He was recruited by Borregos Salvajes after seeing him play at the high school level in his hometown with Águilas del Instituto Mexicano de Tijuana.
He is currently 24 years old, 1.95 meters tall and weighs 131.5 kilograms, characteristics similar to those of his compatriots Alarcón and Gutierrez, who are more than 2 meters tall (2.01 and 2.08) and weigh more than 140 kilograms (145 and 150.5, respectively). Hector hopes to reach the same level as the two of them.
“For a few months now, my two former NFL teammates have been great mentors to me. We talk a lot, the three of us are very good friends, we’ve played together for several years at Tec de Monterrey, have seen each other grow up and I’m in touch with them, basically telling me To enjoy the experience I’m going to have you in the IPP, to enjoy the moments and learn all you can. It’s my turn now to play a good role so that there will be not just one Mexican in the NFL in the coming years, but several.”
Due to his skills in American football, Zepeda was able to get a scholarship from Tecnológico de Monterrey to continue his professional studies and start a postgraduate degree. He explains that the priorities in his life have now changed because sports have overtaken academics, but he is still grateful for what he experienced in this mix of sport and school.
“This (IPP) totally changes my life plan, really, because American football is now a priority when it was always a way to study back then. In recent months, it has become a priority, and above all these 10 weeks is the one I have to focus 100% on. That It is the result of the support that the same institution (Tec de Monterrey) gives us to all student-athletes, from the work done by Isaac (Alarcón) in opening the door to this international program and at the same time as the recruitment of coaches every year in the school, although they When they recruit someone they see their performance not in the short term, but in the medium and long term.”
How important is American football in your opinion in Mexico?
“It’s growing, it’s probably football first, then baseball and there in third place the American sneaks in. The fact is the college games in our country put on a good show and we can also see when the NFL comes to Mexico, the number of people that move in and go to the stadiums. I think people need to start getting more involved, and see that you can go forward in football, get a school, get a job and at the same time look forward to a university is a great way to achieve studies and I think from childhood it is important to encourage attendance in School games because they create a sense of belonging or loyalty to a particular team.”
At all times during the interview, Hector Zepeda’s gaze remains fixed forward. Behind the 1.80m tall, there is a Tijuana boy who dreamed of reaching the elite in American football and now has the potential to fight for that chance against 12 other chances from around the world. Discipline has taken him there, and therefore he does not give up this value as his main way of life.
International Pathway Program (IPP 2022)
It’s the result of two observation camps, called the NFL Combine, held in England and Mexico at the end of 2021, involving 56 players from 16 countries. The 13 finalists, like Hector Zepeda, will be based in the United States from February and will train before the eyes of the coaches of the NFL’s 32 teams, aiming to sign them as free agents or designate free agents in a March-coach coaching team.