IN THE ZONE WITH THE MEXICAN-AMERICAN PRO FOOTBALL PLAYER
PHOTOGRAPHY JORGE GAXIOLA
Zeke Moreno is on the move. The Mexican-American linebacker has left his mark on every team he's played for. While Latinos are not as scarce in professional football as they once were, their numbers are still small enough that when someone of Moreno’s talent and skill level comes along, Latinos take notice. Which helps explain Moreno’s large and fast-growing popularity in the Latino community. Yet Moreno’s career has been watched closely by more than just Latinos. The simple fact is he is a great football player—regardless of ethnicity.
We caught up with Moreno on a recent afternoon to gather his insight on his career and future.
You're from the San Diego area, right?
Yeah. I grew up in Otai, near Chula Vista.
Is that where your family
My grandparents were from Texas. They were there since before it was the U.S. They later moved here to the San Diego area. My grandmother on my mom’s side, my Nana, grew up on a Navajo reservation in Arizona.
Were you always a big
Yeah…I just grew so big and people always ask my mom, “What did you feed them? How’d they get so big?” People always ask me if I’m Samoan. I mean, I got that more in college because in Chula Vista it’s pretty much a Hispanic community. But I guess it’s just in our blood. My uncles are tall. My uncle is 6’7”. All my aunts are like 5’10”, 5’11”.
Did you grow up wanting
to be a football player?
Not really. I played a lot of sports. I played baseball, football, soccer. I actually wanted to play baseball and I thought I was better in baseball, but during high school there were a lot of things going on with the baseball team so I concentrated on football.
I grew up in a very competitive environment. All my life I was competing with my brothers in all kinds of things, including sports. My mom always taught us to compete and be active, so we were always running around.
You went to college at
USC, were there many other schools that you were considering?
I went to visit Colorado and to be honest with you after visiting there I was thinking about committing to Colorado. Later when I went to USC the thing that attracted me to it was the family atmosphere. I come from a close family, and the school gave me the feeling of being part of a family. That’s something that was important to me. I also chose USC because it allowed me to leave home and grow up, but at the same time I was only a two-hour drive from my family and a home-cooked meal. My family and friends could come to see my games too, and that was important to me.
must have been hard making the jump from college to the NFL.
Actually, it was much harder going from high school to college. You could say I already had practice for it, because I had gone through the experience of leaving home and becoming a man. When I left to college I had to do a lot of adjusting because I was used to having my mom cook for me, clean up for me, and take care of me.
You have a lot of Latinos
looking up to you. Do you have a problem being their role model and what would
you say to them?
I don’t have a problem with it at all. I’m proud to be in this position and I feel blessed to be able to represent them. It’s great to have the support of Latinos and I feel honored to have the opportunity to play football and have them cheer me on. I have had great support from Hispanics from my hometown. And up in L.A. hearing them say, “Primo! Go!” That’s a great thing.
The thing I always say to the young ones is to remember how important education is. Not everyone can always make it to the NFL, but if you get the grades it will help you in whatever you do. If you play football you also need what you learn in school to better understand offensive and defense schemes, for example. But it’s so important for them to know that education is going to take them places. I want kids to understand education is what allowed me to get to where I am because without the right grades I wouldn’t have been able to make it to college. I wasn’t necessarily the best or the fastest in high school. There were others that were more gifted than I was, but it’s kind of sad to see people who are good but don’t take advantage of it because they don’t have the grades.
What does your heritage mean to you?
I’m blessed to be born in this country where there are so many benefits and opportunities…but I’m truly proud to be brown. My skin is brown and like I said, I’m proud of it…I think one of the reasons I have such a big heart and a lot of love is because of the Mexican in me. I’m a go-getter and I’m a fighter too.
Why do you think
there aren’t many Latinos in the NFL?
Well I think it’s a stereotype that there aren’t many of us in the NFL, that we can’t do well in the NFL. But I think one reason may be the fact that a lot of Hispanic families are more recent immigrants so they emphasize other sports like soccer. They’re out there playing soccer and not as many of them have been exposed or pushed into playing football.
What do you consider
your most important skill as a football player?
Skill-wise I think instincts. I’m very instinctive. I react to the football. I’m aware, I know what’s going on and I think that’s what gives me the edge out there.
I’ve heard your
mom actually played football? Is that true?
When she was growing up, it was before my days, but when I was growing up she had always talked about her days in football. It’s funny because at home each brother has our own stack of trophies, and we have our own shrine. And in the corner my mom has her one trophy, and she always brags that this is where we got our skills from. My mom is a very intense and aggressive woman. She’s always been the one to coordinate issues as far as me and my brothers. She’d get us out in the back yard, we couldn’t watch TV that long. She wanted us to go in the back yard and play ball for an hour and get tired, then eat, and then relax. But my mom was a big influence in our lives. She’s a competitor. She’s just a strong woman.
You seem like a pretty
low-key kind of guy.
Well I’m tired right now. But I’m just about having a good time, whatever it takes to have fun and enjoy life and that’s what it’s all about. I’m not a stresser, I don’t stress out over things or get pissed over things. I know that God has a plan for me and whatever happens happens. You can’t control it. You just have to find a way to smile about it and just move on.
You’ve had to tackle
a lot of people in your days. Who’s the most illusive guy you’ve faced?
It’s probably Michael Wiley, in high school. He was a beast. He was everywhere.
There’s a lot of
talking and trash-talking that goes on out on the football field. Do you get
into it with people?
I’m usually not a talker. But if someone does something to provoke me then I snap. But I usually get my job done and then go to the huddle. I’d rather save my energy for the next play.
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