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'I would not change it a bit' | Two soccer players fight to survive on and off the field along US-Mexico border

It's harder to compete when you may not have enough to eat, but two high school soccer stars in Brownsville say their hardships make them who they are.

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — Soccer is big in the Rio Grande Valley. It’s a pastime and a passion.

The success of any team depends on a lot of things. But some teams and some players have to fight a lot harder, not only on the field but off.

Jorge Deza Núñez is a goalie for the soccer team at Porter Early College High School in Brownsville.

It takes him an hour to bike to school and practice. He lives in Matamoros, Mexico. He crosses a bridge connecting the two countries every day he has to go to school or has a game.

“There have been times where I almost get run over,” Deza Núñez said. “I have to be really careful to actually get here in the first place.”

The commute is difficult not only because of traffic crossing the bridge back and forth.

“Especially in the bad weather,” he said. “It's like when it's really windy, those are the (days) I hate the most because the wind always hits against me.”

At 18, Deza Núñez is really familiar with life’s difficulties.

Before he turned 10, his parents were arrested and deported.

Deza Núñez was born in the United States, had a family member who lived in Brownsville, so he could and eventually had to make a choice, a grown-up choice for someone so little.

“What did I want to do, stay with my family or continue my education in the United States?” Deza Núñez said, “I chose to continue education if I want a better future for my family.”

Little has been guaranteed in Deza Núñez’s life. He’s trying to change that.

“I need to make the life I want to choose, not the one that the world expects me to be, the world thinks I will fall into, it is my decision in the end, if not theirs,” he told KENS 5.

This is the clarity Deza Núñez’s soccer coach has been hoping for and working on with his students.

“Most of these players lack a role model,” said Jose Espitia, soccer coach at Porter Early College High School in Brownsville.

But “coach” is only his official title. Espitia is much more to his students.

“We end up being like a father figure, a teacher, a coach in some older brother at times,” he said.

His vision for his kids is bigger than a soccer field he so often sees them on.

“Our main purpose here is to make them believe that that the only way to change their cycle at home or the pattern is by getting an education,” he said.

That’s what a dad would say. Isaac Acevedo, another goalie for the team, only has his mom.

“I always wanted a dad,” he said. “I wanted a dad to go see me play. My mom has been both. She works, she cooks, she cleans. She's always there. She's given us a roof also.”

Still, it can be a struggle.

“Right now, with COVID it's been harder, jobs have been harder. And we've been depending on the school lunches for milk, food,” he said.

But Acevedo’s mom somehow sets that aside when he’s on the field. She’s always there to support him, it’s part of the reason he puts in so much work.

“I hope to make it to professional and help my mom out,” Acevedo told KENS5.

The team had a really good season, almost winning the state championship. But “almost” isn’t a championship trophy.

More losses and struggles will likely come in the team’s life. But some of these teens already have to work harder for most anything. And yet somehow, they’re able to do it with grace and have clarity about life so many of us take years to find.

“I know that my life is not as easy as (other) people’s,” Deza Núñez said. “It's such a difficult life. And I would not change it a bit, because such a tough life I had been able to shape me as the person I am today.”

Editors’ note: After KENS 5 started working on the story, we learned that Acevedo received a full-ride scholarship to play soccer for UTRGV. Deza Núñez received a full ride to the University of Houston in Victoria to be a soccer manager there.