THE BUS was on I-35 just north of Laredo, Texas, with about 450 miles still to go and plenty of gas in the tank, when the driver suddenly pulled over to the side of the road. Assistant coach Gustavo Adame immediately knew why. Before the bus came to a halt, he sprang from his seat in the front and shouted in Spanish, "Paperwork, out! Passports, out! Visas, out! Rápido!"
The 30 Mexican boys who had been reclining in their seats jumped up and reached for their knapsacks, where they kept the documents that showed they really did belong in the U.S., if only for two days.
"What have we got here?" the border patrol officer asked in Spanish as he stepped aboard. He paced the aisle, his head bobbing as he checked under the seats and in the overhead compartments. "A fútbol team, I take it," he said, peering at the boys dressed in gray T-shirts with the name of their high school, PREPA TEC, spelled out in blue on the back. But then the officer stopped. "A fútbol team or a football team?" he asked the players in the middle of the bus.
"Fútbol americano," the group replied.
"Ohhhh," the officer said. Satisfied that he wouldn't find anything stranger than helmets and shoulder pads aboard the bus, he turned his back on the boys and headed for the door. "I thought they were a soccer team," he said, shrugging, as he thanked the driver on his way out.
Fútbol americano. The very name reminded the Prepa Tec Borregos Salvajes, or Wild Rams, that the game they played did not belong to them. No matter how many hours these boys from Monterrey practiced, no matter how many touchdowns they scored or national titles they won, fans in the U.S. would not believe that many Mexicans love—and play—football almost as much as they do soccer. That was certainly true of the Borregos, who were halfway through a 15-hour bus trip in the first week of September, traversing the lonely desert to a town called Allen, 25 miles north of Dallas. There they would play the biggest game not only of their lives but also in the history of Prepa Tec football.
No Mexican high school team had ever faced a ranked 5A Texas school, much less one rated No. 4 in the state during the preseason. The Borregos had all seen the message boards.
[Allen] will win by 50!
Yeah, and that's if you start taking knees in the 3rd quarter. Teams from Mexico are typically about as bad as it gets.
The Borregos knew there were doubters. "Do you know who you're playing?" a Texas high school football writer asked Prepa Tec head coach Roberto Rodríguez a week before the game. Yes, he had heard about Allen's junior quarterback, Matt Brown, with his laser arm and quick feet, and about senior defensive back Steven Terrell, who'd already committed to Texas A&M, and about another senior bound for College Station, wide receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu, whose blazing speed and sixth sense for defensive holes enabled him to blow into the clear. But with this game, the Borregos would have a shot at what they wanted most: respect.