Héctor Zepeda, another tricolor flag in NFL orbit

Héctor Zepeda held his face high and his gaze was always straight ahead. When speaking, the sentences are short, but in a firm tone of voice, as if each word counts not to exceed a certain number of yards. Even though he lived the greatest opportunity of his life, he didn’t lose control of his life and it was all because of one thing: American football.

Zepeda Hernández is the third Mexican to be selected by the NFL’s International Pathway Program (IPP), so for the next 10 weeks she will be in orbit around 32 rosters of the best American football players on the planet, waiting to be drafted for the reserve team as was the case with Isaac Alarcón (Dallas Cowboys) and Alfredo Gutiérrez (San Francisco 49ers).

In an interview with The EconomistHéctor Zepeda describes himself as “a disciplined, serious, simple man who tries to do what they say.” Discipline is the main quality left behind by 9 years of sports training and today allowed him to be in the 2022 IPP class, along with 12 other players from France, England, Brazil, Nigeria, Germany, Netherlands, Austria and Latvia.

“I started playing when I was 14 years old, in my third year of high school, I was already half an adult. Since then, there has been an essence that has never been lost to American football and which has left me with many values: discipline, punctuality, respect, work, but what has left me the most are all the people I have met in these nine years, from a culture that different. and history that coincide in one place”.

Héctor plays offensive midfielder, a position which, during this season, has six foreign players: Penei Sewell (American Samoa/Detroit Lions), Jordan Mailata (Australia/Philadelphia Eagles), Max Pircher (Italy/Los Angeles Rams), Matt Peart (Jamaica) /New York Giants), Chukwuma Okorafor (Nigeria/Pittsburgh Steelers) and Isaac Alarcón of Mexico with the Cowboys. Of the 13 shortlisted at IPP 2022, eight (including Zepeda) play in that position.

What difference could a Mexican in your position make to the NFL?

“I did the hard work that all Mexicans do, it is known that Mexicans are hard workers and know how to take advantage of opportunities. My goal is to work hard, do everything in my power, so that nothing is left in me, learn from the coach, from other athletes, what things they do well and what I can learn from them”.

A native of Tijuana, Baja California, Zepeda Hernández has forged the last six years of her life at Tecnológico de Monterrey, where she graduated in Industrial and Systems Engineering and recently studied a master’s degree in Finance. He was recruited by Borregos Salvajes after being spotted playing at the high school level in his hometown with guilas del Instituto Mexicano de Tijuana.

Currently, he is 24 years old, measuring 1.95 meters and weighing 131.5 kilograms, similar characteristics to his compatriots Alarcón and Gutiérrez, who are over two meters tall (2.01 and 2.08) and weigh over 140 kilograms (145 and 150.5, respectively). Héctor hoped to reach the same level as the two of them.

“For several months now, two of my former teammates who are in the NFL have been great mentors to me. We talk a lot, the three of us are very good friends, we played together for a few years at Tec de Monterrey, we watched each other grow and I got in touch with them, basically they told me to enjoy the experience I was going to have at IPP, to enjoy the moment and learn all you can. Now it’s my turn to play a good role so that in the years to come there will be not just one Mexican in the NFL, but several.”

Due to his expertise in American football, Zepeda was able to receive a scholarship from the Tecnológico de Monterrey to continue his professional studies and begin his postgraduate degree. He explained that now his priorities in life have changed as sport has transcended academics, but he remains grateful for what he experienced in that combination of sport and school.

“This (IPP) really changed my life plan, really, because now American football has become a priority that was always a learning tool. In the last few months this has become a priority and above all these 10 weeks are what I have to focus on 100%. This is the result of the support provided by the same institution (Tec de Monterrey) to all student athletes, from the work that Isaac (Alarcón) did in opening the doors of this international program and at the same time in recruitment. what coaches do every year at school, even though when they recruit someone they don’t see their performance in the short term, but in the medium and long term”.

How important do you think American football is in Mexico?

“It progressed, maybe football in first place, then baseball and there in third place the Americans crept in. The truth is that the college games in our country put on great performances and we can also see that when the NFL came to Mexico, the number of people moving and going to the stadiums. I think people need to start getting a little more involved, that they see that you can go further with football, get a school, a career and at the same time aspire to university is a great way to achieve studies and I think from childhood It is important for children to encourage attendance at school games because it creates a sense of belonging or liking a particular team”.

At all times during the interview, Héctor Zepeda’s gaze remained straight ahead. And beyond that height of over 1.80 meters lies a boy from Tijuana who dreamed of reaching the elite of American football and now has the possibility to fight for the opportunity against 12 other prospects from around the world. Discipline had brought him there and because of that he did not give up that value as his main way of life.

International Pathway Program (IPP 2022)

This is the result of two observation camps, called the NFL Combine, held in England and Mexico in late 2021, in which 56 players from 16 countries participated. The final 13 picks, like Héctor Zepeda, will be based in the United States from February and will be trained in the presence of coaches from 32 NFL teams, with a view to being signed as a free agent or assigned to a practice team.

Matt Thompson

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