DALLAS – The past 48 hours has been a been a whirlwind of bad weather, closed runways, an unexpected layover, delayed flights and once he was on the ground, a swirl of handshakes, back slaps and getting-to-know-you’s for Tristan Garcia.
The sixth-grader from Somerville flew from Newark into the Lone Star state on Monday to practice and participate in a national football bowl game with an elite group of 59 other football standout scholar/athletes from across the nation, chosen from a pool of 30,000 young athletes.
Tristan has played the last three years with the Somerville Branchburg United Bulldogs; the team and parents of other players helped to raise a portion of the $2,300 needed for the trip.
Along with his mother, Brionna Castillo and grandmother, Lorayo Allen-Castillo, Tristan is shuttling between their hotel and the football facility daily.
Monday was spent unpacking, signing in, meeting coaches and the other players, taking photos, with a two-hour team meeting to close out the day.
On hand to greet the young players were Bret Cooper, founder of the Bret Cooper Junior Academic All-American Bowl, and former NFL players Lester Johnson and Nixon Edwards.
The young football players also heard from members of the Dallas Stealth, a professional team that competes in the Arena Football League.
Tuesday was practice from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., with a team meeting after dinner from 7-9 p.m.
Tristan, a wide receiver, learned to work with a new quarterback and said he is impressed by the skill, size and speed of the other players, who will face off in the bowl game Jan. 2.
“I think I fit in pretty good,” Tristan said, speaking from their hotel room after practice Tuesday. “I expected them to be quick and strong.”
His mother, who watched the first practice intently from the sidelines, was impressed by the tempo of the drills.
“This is no joke, they take quick breaks for water and that’s about it,” she said. “They’re going at it pretty strong.”
Tristan held up well.
“I feel pretty good, I started off slow, but it got better.”
The players who qualify for the Brett Cooper Junior Academic All-American Bowl must also excel in the classroom. Tristan is a B student at Somerville’s Middle School.
The coaches and staff have two playbooks; one for the game, the other is filled with life lessons, with particular emphasis on academics.
They’re all on the same page when it comes to school.
The boys and their parents heard from a former college player whose skill set had him pointed to any one of several major Division I college programs. Though he was heavily recruited, there were no scholarships to be had because of poor grades.
He had to enroll in a junior college to improve his grades, and lost out on the opportunity to perform on a bigger national stage, according to Castillo.
“They are really preparing them to be better men,” she said.
There will be more practice on Wednesday, and the players will each receive their playbook to study. There will be more team meetings and a Hawaiian Luau to cap off the day.
Thursday, New Year’s Eve, the young players step off the field and into the stands at the Cotton Bowl, where they’ll sit back and watch the Alabama Crimson Tide take on the Michigan State Spartans.
They’ll return to the practice field New Year’s Day to prepare for the bowl game Saturday.
Tap into Somerville will continue to post daily highlights with photos during Tristan’s trip to Dallas on its website and on Facebook.