Written by Borna Nazari, student intern
When one thinks of sports in Mexico, they think of elegant strikers scoring goals in the World Cup, flame throwing pitchers reaching the MLB, or even a dramatic bull fight that thousands come to see. However, football is a game that is dominated by American Culture and is somewhat present in Canada, but is actually relevant in Mexico.
For former USD football standouts Jalen Smith and Jereke Armstrong, their lives have been permanently changed. Last year, the Toreros played a football team from Mexico in an exhibition game, beating the Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP) 49-25. Smith and Armstrong believed they were entering their final season playing football; however, they learned about a unique opportunity with this university.
Smith explains, "Coach Lindsey asked me if I'd be interested in playing football for coach Eric Fisher down at UDLAP since the coaching staff down there was interested in some of the USD players after we had played them this past year."
Smith and Armstrong, both given scholarships to play in Mexico, accepted this offer but not without some reservations. The idea of entering a foreign country where they can't speak the language and immersing themselves in a different culture is a life changing and scary experience.
For Armstrong, "Being in an unfamiliar place is what scares [him] the most." As for Smith, "If there's anything that [he's] scared about, it is the initial language barrier. [He] knows a little Spanish but not enough to carry a full conversation, so communicating with the people who aren't bilingual will be somewhat challenging."
However, the granted scholarship was definitely the deciding factor for both players. "It's hard to pass up an opportunity where you can learn a second language and get your master's degree paid for," Smith said.
Armstrong knows that playing for a non-scholarship program at USD can be challenging at times, thus his appreciation for a scholarship offer at UDLAP: "No, I would not have played if I was not granted a scholarship because I was a non-scholarship athlete at USD. I know how challenging that can be."
Both of these young men plan to study international business. To be pursuing their master's in another country is somewhat unorthodox, but can benefit them when their football days are over. Learning first hand how business is done abroad is vital to anyone studying international business.
As of right now, they are both in San Diego training together and won't travel to Mexico until training camp begins early in August. UDLAP is coming off of a national championship, so expectations for the former Toreros and the entire team will be sky-high. Playing for a defending national champion will give the two former Toreros more exposure on the big stage, even in another country. Often, a team's chemistry can translate to team success. For the former Toreros, building team chemistry won't be easy as most players on the team only speak Spanish. However, no one said it would be easy. Some of the coaches speak english and can help Smith and Armstrong build strong, lasting relationships with the players.
At the end of the day, the idea of getting a paid education and continuing their football careers is intriguing to both players. The challenges of being in a new country will take care of itself over time, but the memories built in Mexico will last forever. Outside of football, building relationships and earning their master's degree is something that will never be taken away from them. The USD community's reach expanded to new borders literally and figuratively because of Jalen Smith and Jereke Armstrong.
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