Chicken tenders, mashed potatoes and green beans: a hardy meal for high school football players as they ready for a Friday night under the stadium lights.
But that pre-game meal with the Dickinson High School team meant more than calories and carbohydrates for the Autenticos Tigres, a high school football team affiliated with Universidad Autónoma de Nueva León (UANL).
“Sometimes other teams give us a lunchbox after the game, but this was a great thing to do with their team,” said Autenticos Tigres coach Juan Carlos “JC” Garcia. “To get to be around those kids who are extremely good, and everything we get from that.”
On its 12th season visiting from Monterrey, Mexico, the Autenticos Tigres played two Galveston County teams, Texas City on Sept. 9 and Dickinson on Sept. 16. The Tigres played into overtime against the Stings but eventually fell short with the 22-19 loss.
Garcia called Texas City coach Shone Evans and Dickinson coach John Snelson “two of the finest coaches” he has ever met.
“The first game in Texas City was a very competitive game, and we were close to winning that game, but we lost in overtime,” Garcia said. “When we get here and play football, it’s not easy. But after watching video, we had good stats and we ran and threw the ball well. It was a good experience for them.”
Snelson said he was connected with Garcia through Matt Stepp, Texas high school football insider and a writer for Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine. Snelson was looking for a Week 4 opponent after realignment last February, and Stepp sent him a message about UANL’s Autenticos Tigres.
“I knew Texas City was looking for a Week 3 game, so I contacted Coach Garcia and was able to fill his Week 3 and 4 slots,” Snelson said in an email. “We traded video, we produced a game plan and prepared like every other week.”
It’s typical for coaches to reach out to Stepp to put out word that they are looking for non-district games. He said Twitter posts have become like virtual classified ads for schools who need games.
“Coach Garcia … always really active and looking for games in Texas because he wants to bring his team to Texas to experience the football atmosphere,” Stepp said. “He knows when realignment is, and he’ll message me if he sees an RT (from a coach looking for a game).”
Non-district games can be a bit of a school dance, Stepp said, with teams left on the side of the dance floor looking for a match. And the Tigres are always willing to play.
Stepp has watched them travel from Monterrey to Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Stephenville for games.
“At first, it was an invitation from the Valley. After one or two games, we started to make a name for ourselves,” Garcia said. “Some teams were looking for teams to play against, and some of them we played for five years. Right now, the Valley teams don’t want to play against us because of our level of play, so we’re starting to go up north and right around the Houston area and Dallas.”
This season will be the first since 2019 that the Tigres will play Mexican high school teams, Garcia said. Their main opponents are Mexico City schools which are a 12- to 14-hour bus ride from Monterrey.
UANL is one of the biggest schools in the country with college-age and high school-age players. The university includes 25 high schools and several engineering and vocational schools, he said. Players are eligible until they’re 25 on the college-age squad.
“We don’t have a pro league like the NFL, and it doesn’t pay too much,” Garcia said. “(At UANL), everyone can get a degree and are eligible for scholarships for an M.B.A. or a Ph.D. as long as they’re playing football.”
Garcia only travels to play Texas teams with his high school squad, which is made up of 17- and 18-year-old students. The last season it played in Mexico, the Tigres were bi-national champions.
A highlight of the Tigres’ trip to Texas this year was a reunion with Dickinson player Victor Cortez. Cortez attended junior high school in Monterrey and played youth football with a few of the current players on the Mexican team.
Snelson said Cortez enjoyed playing against his friends from back home.
“They had a lot of friendly banter back and forth all week long via social media,” Snelson said. “They were very gracious, and a great time was had by all.”
The Tigres’ national season with Organización Nacional Estudiantil de Fútbol Americano starts this week.