Over the last four years, more than a hundred Mexican teenagers have bused their way through northern Mexico and over the river to Laredo, where they wait two hours or more to enter Texas.
Six hours or so later, they unload from the bus, stand underneath the Friday Night Lights and do what they love the most — play football.
Former Mexico national champion Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon has traveled to Round Rock, Brownsville, Barber’s Hill, Copperas Cove and Killeen.
But no one has been more inviting than the Bulldawgs.
Copperas Cove head coach Jack Welch has welcomed the Tigres with open arms; spending about a week each offseason practicing with the team and helping them adjust to the style of play in the United States.
Still, the result was nearly the same as the previous three times. Welch’s Bulldawgs cruised to a 43-17 victory Friday at Bulldawg Stadium.
The Tigres, a select team from a handful of public high schools in Monterrey, are one of the most successful American football programs in Mexico. Under the Friday Night Lights in Texas, though, they have been nothing more than district warm-up games for teams, nearly sure-fire victories.
In 2010, when UANL first started playing against Texas high schools, it faced off against Round Rock Stony Point, which at the time was ranked No. 5 in 5A. The American version of the Tigers held every advantage over their opponents from Mexico’s northern state.
They were bigger. They were faster. They were stronger.
They won 48-7.
The Tigres are 0-3 this season with a 14-7 loss to Barber’s Hill as well as the losses to the District 8-5A opponents. Last season, UANL went 0-4 in Texas.
The last two seasons, it has played both Shoemaker and Copperas Cove. Two of the four Shoemaker wins in that time (4-9) have come against the Tigres.
They also have lost 20-10 to Tyler and 37-13 to Barber’s Hill. The closest they have come to winning was a 16-14 loss to Round Rock Stony Point in 2011. A game UANL seemingly did win, hitting a field goal as time expired only to see it waved no good by the refs. They have beaten one American team — a 28-7 victory over Lovington High (N.M.).
The Tigres had their shot against Shoemaker last season. The Grey Wolves had only one win in their last 21 tries, even though they had one of the best running backs in Texas — Johnny Jefferson.
Jefferson made his impact early, bursting up the middle for an 87-yard touchdown run.
But the rest of the first half, the Baylor running back was bottled up, gaining only 16 yards on his other eight carries. UANL, meanwhile, scored on defense and went up 13-6 after quarterback Jorge Chavez connected on a 28-yard touchdown pass with wide receiver Gerardo Cortes.
However, Jefferson put the game away in the final five minutes, breaking off 47- and 7-yard touchdown runs. After the game, Jefferson stood at midfield.
He had just run for 303 yards as Shoemaker defeated the Tigres 38-24.
He was the best player the Tigres had ever seen.
A few members of the team from Monterrey patted him on the shoulder pads. A few wanted to shake his hand. And a couple simply wanted his autograph.
But there is more to their desire to cross the border than just wins and losses.
It is rewarding — even if it is not always safe.
In 2011, Monterrey Tech canceled its game at Stony Point amid an alleged extortion threat from a drug cartel.
An anonymous caller allegedly demanded a $30,000 in cash for the team to safely cross an international bridge into the United States.
Still, though, the Tigres load the buses early Friday morning — and sometimes Thursday night — and cross the border.
UANL is looking for better competition and to grow as a team.
They find it here in Texas, underneath the Friday Night Lights, where their dreams are the same as any other athlete on the football field.
They simply yearn to play the game they love, even if they have to cross a few borders to do it.
Contact Nick Talbot at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7569