Héctor Zepeda has his face held high and his gaze always fixed straight ahead. When speaking, his sentences are short, but with a firm tone of voice, as if each word is calculated not to exceed a certain number of yards. Although he is living the greatest opportunity of his life, he does not lose control in his way of being and all that is due to one thing: American football.
Zepeda Hernández is the third Mexican selected by the International Pathway Program (IPP) of the NFL, so for the next 10 weeks he will be in the orbit of the 32 best American football rosters on the planet, waiting to be recruited for a team of reserves as happened with Isaac Alarcón (Dallas Cowboys) and Alfredo Gutiérrez (San Francisco 49ers).
In interview with The EconomistHéctor Zepeda describes himself as a “disciplined, serious, simple guy who tries to do what they say.” Discipline is the main quality that practicing sport has left him for 9 years and that today allows him to be in the 2022 class of the IPP, along with 12 other players from France, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Nigeria, Germany, the Netherlands , Austria and Latvia.
“I started playing when I was 14 years old, in the third year of high school, I was already half grown up. Since then, there is an essence that American football never loses and that has left me many values: discipline, punctuality, respect, work, but what has left me the most is all the people I have met in these nine years, from different cultures and histories that coincide in one place”.
Héctor plays offensive lineman, a position that, during the current season, had six foreigners: 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 Mexican Isaac Alarcón with the Cowboys. Of the 13 selected in the 2022 IPP, eight (including Zepeda) play in that position.
What different can a Mexican in your position bring to the NFL?
“I carry the hard work that all Mexicans do, it is well known that the Mexican is a hard worker and knows how to take advantage of opportunities. My goal is to work hard, to do everything in my power, so that nothing remains in me, to learn from the coaches, from the other athletes, what things they do well and what I can learn from them”.
Originally from Tijuana, Baja California, Zepeda Hernández has forged the last six years of his life at the Tecnológico de Monterrey, where he graduated in Industrial and Systems Engineering and recently studied a master’s degree in Finance. He was recruited by the Borregos Salvajes after being seen playing at the high school level in his hometown with the Águilas del Instituto Mexicano de Tijuana.
Currently, he is 24 years old, measures 1.95 meters and weighs 131.5 kilos, characteristics similar to those of his compatriots Alarcón and Gutiérrez, who are more than two meters tall (2.01 and 2.08) and weigh more than 140 kilos (145 and 150.5, respectively). Héctor hopes to reach the same level as the two of them.
“For a few months now, my two former teammates who are in the NFL have been great mentors to me. We talk often, the three of us are very good friends, we played together for several years at Tec de Monterrey, we saw each other grow and I am in contact with them, basically they tell me to enjoy the experience that I am going to have at the IPP, to enjoy the moments and learn all you can. Now it’s my turn to play a good role so that in the coming years there will not only be one Mexican in the NFL, but several.”
Due to his skills in American football, Zepeda was able to receive a scholarship from the Tecnológico de Monterrey to continue his professional studies and start a postgraduate degree. He explains that now the priorities in his life have changed because sports have surpassed academics, but he is still grateful for what he experienced in that combination of sports and school.
“This (the IPP) does completely change my life plan, really, because now American football has become a priority when before it was always a means of studying. In recent months it has become a priority and above all these 10 weeks are the ones that I must focus on 100%. This is the result of the support that the same institution (Tec de Monterrey) gives us to all the student-athletes, of the work that Isaac (Alarcón) did in opening the door to this international program and at the same time of the recruitment that the coaches do every year. at school, although 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 has become in Mexico?
“It is growing, maybe soccer is in the first place, then baseball and there in third place the American is creeping in. The truth is that the college games in our country do put on a good show and we can also see it when the NFL comes to Mexico, the number of people who move and go 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 a university is a great way to achieve studies and I think that from childhood it is important to encourage attendance at school games because it creates a sense of belonging or fondness for a certain team”.
At all times during the interview, Héctor Zepeda’s gaze remains firmly forward. And it is that behind those more than 1.80 meters of height there is a boy from Tijuana who dreamed of reaching the elite of American football and now has the possibility of fighting for that opportunity against 12 other prospects from around the world. The discipline has taken him there and therefore he does not let go of that value as his main way of life.
International Pathway Program (IPP 2022)
It is the result of two observation camps, called the NFL Combine, held in England and Mexico at the end of 2021, in which 56 players from 16 countries participated. The 13 final picks, like Héctor Zepeda, will be concentrated in the United States starting in February and will be training before the eyes of the coaches of the 32 NFL teams, with a view to being signed as free agents or assigned to free agents in March. a practice team.