Special Report: Recruitment and the digital age of sports

Special Reports

The talent is here. Now people are starting to see it.

HARLINGEN (KVEO) — One click can go a long way.

Senior right tackle Ronnie Garza made a name for himself at Edinburg Vela High School. At 6 feet 6 inches tall, 295 pounds, Garza was hard to miss, but he made sure people noticed his game.

“Once I realized football was what I wanted to do and how I was going to get school paid for, I went straight to highlight reels and highlight films,” Garza explained. “It’s really easy for someone to just click on a video and watch it.”

Coaches clicked.

With double-digit offers from division-one programs, Garza decided to further his career at the University of Texas-San Antonio. He will join Sharyland Pioneer’s Star Quarterback Eddie Lee Marburger as well as a handful of other Rio Grande Valley athletes.

Over 24 years ago, things were a bit different.

“Back then you had to make your own tapes,” former Rio Hondo standout Roberto Garza said. “I had no idea what I was doing, to be honest.”

Following a decorated career with the Rio Hondo Bobcats, Garza sought an opportunity at the next level. The former bobcat managed to get his tape to the Texas A&M Kingsville football program. After some consideration, the Javelinas granted Garza an opportunity to walk on the team.

“They were like, ‘hey, you know we don’t have any scholarship money, but you can walk on,” Roberto Garza remembered. “That was all I wanted.”

He made the most of his opportunity.

Garza was drafted in the fourth round of the 2001 NFL draft to the Atlanta Falcons. After four years in Atlanta, Garza joined the Chicago Bears, where he played in Super Bowl 41. Originally signed for a one-year contract, Garza earned a six-year extension, quickly becoming one of the Bears’ most consistent offensive lineman.

Now, he continues to keep tabs on the next wave of talent coming from the Rio Grande Valley.

“Every year, it seems like more and more kids are getting those opportunities,” Roberto Garza said. “You can go viral getting a pancake block and now millions of people are watching your tape.”

He’s not wrong.

The class of 2021 has produced over three division-one athletes in football alone. The RGV has produced countless division-one prospects when you include track & field, soccer, baseball and other sports.

Washington State University football recruiting assistant Marco Regalado agrees. After all, he coached in the Rio Grande Valley just two years ago as a part of the PSJA Memorial football team.

“The valley is an underrecruited market,” Regalado said. “[Social Media] is a game-changer for these kids.”

Coach Regalado has experienced the positive effects of social media in his own career. While serving as an assistant coach at PSJA Memorial, Regalado began making videos on the popular social app, TikTok, amassing over 200,000 likes across his page.

Following a successful stint with the Wolverines, Regalado took a position with the V.R. Eaton Eagles football team in Fort Worth before joining the collegiate ranks at Washington State.

Now a collegiate recruiter, Regalado understands the difficulty of recruiting athletes in deep South Texas due to time-sensitive recruitment restrictions across top-tier football.

“You can hit a metroplex and get all these looks,” Regalado said. “The RGV and coastal bend areas are more spread out, and it’s going to take a lot of days that kind of eats into your allotment.”

Social media helps this problem, and when one Valley athlete garners recognition, other athletes benefit.

“When you have a Ronnie Garza, it is going to make people notice where he comes from,” Roberto Garza said. “While they are watching Ronnie play, they are going to see the receiver and the defensive tackle.”

Social media has drawn attention to an area deprived of it for decades.

Ultimately, social media can open doors, but it’s up to valley athletes to walk through them. Cavazos Sports Institute owner and head trainer Jaime Cavazos, MS, CSCS, is working to ensure valley athletes are ready for the next level.

“One of my main goals was to bridge the gap between valley athletes and bigger cities,” Cavazos said. “Since we started doing this in 2006 or 2005, I’m somewhere in the seventies of division one scholarships.”

Social media provides Rio Grande Valley athletes an avenue that did not exist a few decades ago, but athletes still need to have the talent.

Nobody understands that better than Roberto Garza.

“It’s up to you…Once you get that door opened, you have to get in there and show them why you belong and why you deserve it.”

Roberto Garza said.

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