by Steven Sanchez
Football season is here. No position is more important on the field than a team’s quarterback. He serves as the leader, the play caller, the face of the team, and one who delivers the ball to his playmakers. The sport is America’s past time. It’s hard to imagine that no matter what level of play it is, whether in college and especially in the pros where for all those individuals from the game’s past and present, very few have been Hispanic.
Only just a handful can be named that have broken into the mainstream lexicon. There’s Jim Plunkett, the two-time Super Bowl champion for the Oakland Raiders in the early 80s, but most wouldn’t know that. Central Valley native Tom Flores is one of two people in the sport who have won Super Bowls as a player, assistant coach, and head coach. He won two as the coach of the Raiders, but most would believe Art Shell was the first minority head coach in the NFL when it was him. Making him the first minority champion coach and first-ever Hispanic starting quarterback in professional football. In recent memory people will remember Mark Sanchez for his on the field errors while bypassing the fact that he’s one of two quarterbacks in NFL history to reach the conference championship in his first two seasons in the league. You wouldn’t think that former Pro-Bowlers Jeff Garcia and Tony Romo were Hispanic just based on their appearance. Any Hispanic out there playing the position knows it’s a small company, but with Fresno State’s Jorge Reyna, he sees his ethnicity as an advantage.
“It feels good being a Mexican quarterback here in Fresno, it’s close to home, and it’s got a good Hispanic population. It’s a pleasure being a role model in this day and age of our political climate,” Jorge proudly announces.
The senior from Downey is one of the very few Hispanic starting quarterbacks in the program’s history. The community and the school have rallied behind him since the college is recognized as a Hispanic Serving Institution and over 51% percent of the student population identifies as Hispanic. This season is about proving he deserves to play at the Division 1 level, after playing at the community college level at West Los Angeles School, but to show the world his worth as a student athlete in a high-profile role when we live in a time where the country’s political administration casts Hispanics in a not so great light. “There’s no pressure at all. I’m doing this by being a positive role model as I can for my family, myself, and for the last name I carry. It’s a big deal to me to represent my family well and hopefully influence and motivate the next generation on becoming better than I am.”
He’s well aware about the underrepresented fraternity that exists in the game at the position, and he knows that all eyes are on him for those that haven’t seen an athlete that looks like them. In a short documentary about his life off the field he mentions how kids from all over the country, even in Texas, are messaging him on social media expressing how he’s been an inspiration to them. “It’s a great amount of responsibility that I enjoy. Not a lot of Mexican quarterbacks have gone through the Division 1 rankings, so if I can open the door for the next generation of kids to prove that we can play this game and excel at it, then I’ve done my job,” says Jorge.
And so far, he’s done well at his job. Already into the midseason, he’s completed 127 passes out of 196 attempts, throwing for 1,455 yards, and 10 touchdowns. In order to do a good job, he had to win the job and to be given the opportunity from head coach Jeff Tedford means something. The former Bulldogs quarterback alumni has coached at Oregon and Cal, and while the head coach at Cal, he oversaw great NFL talents like running back Marshawn Lynch and current Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The fact he won him over just shows how much talent and ability he has and how much he believes in him. But it wasn’t an easy road to get here.
There’s no question that Hispanics in this country have to work harder just to be considered for opportunities across the board. The culture has been marginalized in other fields besides sports such as music, film, and the list goes on, so a Hispanic must turn that work ethic meter up if that person wants to be noticed. “It’s different, people typically don’t see the Mexican quarterback, they don’t see our last name or our skin color making plays. It was difficult at first until I was told being Mexican is our advantage, we are known for working hard, for putting our head down and doing what we have to do for our family. My father, my family, and the small village that helped raise me instilled that in me that you’re going to have to work hard and people are going to doubt you, that’s fine. Make sure you have your supporting cast and you’ll work twice as hard in life and in this game, so go do it,” addresses Jorge.
He’s all about family. His story is another immigrant story filled with adversity but togetherness. His grandfather was an immigrant who worked as a janitor at Disney and showed the family what hard work is. And it’s expected to have a moment in your life as a brown skinned person to have others chastise you for speaking Spanish, and it happened to him in elementary school.
He carries his family’s past with him and the school’s past history is always there as a reminder of what he’s getting into. The college has a line of notable NFL quarterback talent in their stable with David Carr, his younger brother Derek who’s currently with the Oakland Raiders, and former Super Bowl champ Trent Dilfer. The team is entering this current season after coming off its most successful one ever last year with a record of 12-2 as Mountain West conference champions finishing ranked No. 18, behind awards candidate quarterback Marcus McMaryion. He faced the challenge head on. “You have to handle it one game at a time. I hone my craft, and it’s about being precise and excellent in every little thing I do in every detail. I encourage my teammates to help their game play improve, and that was and is my focus,” instructs Jorge.
The team has faced adversity this year with a record of 3-3 and suffered heartbreaking losses in down-to-the-wire games where they could’ve won in the closing seconds against USC and Minnesota, but it just didn’t happen. As he’s done before, he hasn’t let the pressure get to him, and he knows all too well about focusing ahead and not letting things get the better of him.
“You have to cancel out the noise. There’s people that are going to speak negatively about you. You have to lean on each other as a team through the difficulties and keep your head down and keep going,” Reyna points out.
He’s carving his own path and making his own legacy with each passing game. When he’s home, he turns it up. The Bulldogs captured their first victory over Sacramento State by a score of 34-20 behind Reyna’s 28/41 completions for 326 yards and two passing touchdowns, and a very decisive win over the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with the final result being 56-27 with more impressive statistics by Reyna with 16/23 completions for 229 yards and a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown. If he keeps it up, he can become one of the school’s top quarterbacks in the annals of its gridiron history, and the memory he leaves behind he feels will be a positive one. “I have no control over what people will think of me, but I hope it’s all positive, and I hope for the younger kids I’m an inspiration for them to do anything and everything that’s possible.”