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ONLY 30 years earlier the football team at Tec de Monterrey, the college with which Prepa Tec is affiliated, had faced Texas high school jayvee teams—and lost. Badly. Assistant coach Frank González, who had played high school football in Laredo, watched Tec win every game against Mexican teams only to lose every ... single ... time against Americans. After three years of Tec wins and losses being separated not only by a hyphen but also by a border, González devoted himself over the next few years to bulking up his players through weight training and to eradicating their sense of inferiority.
Over time Tec grew bigger, stronger, better. González became head coach in 1985, and a decade later Tec began helping Prepa Tec develop a football program by donating scholarship funds, sharing its football staff and fields, and providing room and board for players from outside the Monterrey area. Other Mexican colleges followed Tec's lead, establishing feeder programs at high schools. But none could match Prepa Tec. Its high academic standards and its ability to provide scholarships that covered up to 90% of the $5,000-per-semester tuition lured the best players in the region.
From its very first season, in 1996, Prepa Tec sought competition across the border. That fall the Borregos limped home from their U.S. debut, a 42--7 loss to Class 5A Del Rio High, 150 miles west of San Antonio. The next fall Prepa Tec returned the favor, beating Del Rio 31--21.
Three years later Borregos athletic director Ramón Morales and then head coach Alfonso Cerna drove a truck to a number of Texas high schools, doling out business cards and asking coaches and athletic directors to squeeze in games against Prepa Tec during their bye weeks. In the coming years the Borregos would take down small Texas schools such as Rio Hondo High and challenge larger ones such as Strake Jesuit, Dallas Jesuit and Eagle Pass. They would beat Falfurrias and Hanna, and by 2005 they'd batter Port Isabel, near South Padre Island, 51--0. That led fans in Texas to ask coaches, whenever Prepa Tec appeared on their school's schedule, Do you know who you're playing?
That's what the police wanted to find out when they stopped the Borregos' bus in 2005 as it arrived for a game against Class 4A Rockport-Fulton High. The Borregos had trounced Class 3A Port Isabel the week before, and some Texas coaches had begun to wonder about Prepa Tec's success. Could the team be suiting up college players from Tec, with which Prepa shares coaches, plays and practice fields?
As undefeated Rockport-Fulton warmed up, the Rockport sheriff standing at the bus door asked the boys to come out one by one and present their visas. Rockport residents were embarrassed not only when every Prepa Tec player turned out to be 18 or younger but also when the indignant Borregos thrashed the Pirates 48--3. The Port Isabel and Rockport games were the first two wins in Prepa Tec's 10--1 streak against Texas teams over three years; the sole loss was at the hands of Class 5A El Dorado High of El Paso. The Borregos had won the Mexican title six times since the team's inception. But there was still that nagging question: Did it matter if you beat everyone without taking down a Someone?
ALLEN COACH Tom Westerberg had looked everywhere—Texas, Florida, Georgia—to fill the hole in the Eagles' schedule after their Week 1 opponent dropped them. "Who you need to call," Brownsville district athletic administrator Joe Rodriguez told Westerberg last March, "is Prepa Tec." Westerberg didn't have clue about the Mexican powerhouse. But within a month he was shaking hands and signing a contract with Borregos coach Rodríguez for a game this year and next.
On Sept. 4 Westerberg's players lined up to greet the Borregos in the Allen cafeteria. A table full of Dickey's BBQ, the Eagles' typical pregame meal, awaited. Allen sat the players together according to position; Nwachukwu, nicknamed Eazy, ate up his barbecue while saying just how much Prepa Tec receiver Ignacio Guerra, wearing a USC cap, seemed "just like me!" At another table Allen athletic director Steve Williams had red gift bags labeled with the names of the Tec players. Guerra rifled through his bag and yanked out the commemorative JUEGO DE FÚTBOL AMERICANO T-shirt and the red-framed sunglasses with ALLEN printed on the sides but stopped at the sight of the Chick-fil-A toy cow holding a sign that read EAT MOR CHIKIN. "What," asked Guerra, who like almost all of the Borregos is bilingual, "is this?"
"You know, the chicken," said Eazy, the Indiana-born, Texas-raised son of Nigerian immigrants. "Like the chicken dance."
Guerra looked even more perplexed.