The International Player Pathway Program brings a new Mexican player to the NFL
Héctor Zepeda is the newest Mexican player to make it through the NFL's International Player Pathway Program. Will he make a roster next season?
American Football is increasingly becoming an international sport, not only in terms of its worldwide audience but also thanks to an increase in international players competing in the NFL. Part of this diversity is thanks to the NFL International Player Pathway Program (IPPP), which aims to provide elite international athletes with the opportunity to compete at the NFL level, improve their skills, and ultimately work to earn a spot on a roster.
Four active Latino players are in the NFL thanks to this program. They are Mexico’s Isaac Alarcón (OT, Dallas Cowboys), Mexico’s Alfredo Gutiérrez (OT, San Francisco 49ers), Brazil’s Durval Neto (DT, Miami Dolphins), and Chile’s Sammis Reyes (TE, Washington Commanders). The 2023 class includes another Mexican, offensive lineman Héctor Zepeda. As a side note, Zepeda, Alarcón, and Gutiérrez all attended the same university.
Eleven athletes from five countries have been selected for the 2023 NFL International Player Pathway program.
Players will begin training in the United States in January for 10 weeks and will have the opportunity to showcase their talents to NFL club scouts throughout March. pic.twitter.com/09tAPrvIYu
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) November 29, 2022
While football has a long way to go to become as internationally recognizable as fútbol or basketball, the NFL has come a long way to make the sport more accessible across the globe. Thanks to the IPPP, it’s now easier than ever to make it to the NFL from outside the United States.
How to apply to the International Player Pathway Program
Participants willing to apply for the program must adhere to the following criteria:
- Age 24 or younger
- Out of high school (or equivalent) for at least four years
- Did not play football at a US college
- Ability to speak English
- Not a citizen of the US or Canada
- Must be available and eligible to travel to the US for two months from the first week in March
Previous experience with the sport is encouraged, but not necessary. Many players have come from other disciplines, such as rugby, wrestling, and basketball.
¡Hector Zepeda de @BorregosMty fue seleccionado para el NFL International Player Pathway 2023!
Entrenará en enero junto con otros 10 jugadores para buscar ser ubicado como Isaac Alarcón y Alfredo Gutierrez 🔥 🇲🇽 pic.twitter.com/HDksViShEA
— Mauricio Rodríguez (@MauNFL) November 29, 2022
Those selected are then invited to NFL Combines taking place in different locations around the world. In 2022, these took place in Monterrey, Mexico and Reutlingen, Germany. The highest achievers are then invited to a ten-week NFL boot camp in the United States. At the end of the program, the top performers are offered a spot on an NFL roster.
This doesn’t guarantee them playing time, however. If they are good, but not good enough, players might not make it beyond the practice squad. But success stories like Alarcón and Gutiérrez have given more Mexican players a reason to believe they can make it to the league.
Though the program has shown its best progress in Mexico, it has also found and developed successful players from other countries as well. These include Nigeria’s Efe Obada (DE, Washington Commanders), Australia’s Jordan Mailata (DT, Philadelphia Eagles), and Germany’s Jakob Johnson (FB, Las Vegas Raiders). And though the NFL has found success with the program since its launch in 2017, this isn’t the first time they’ve tried to find talent outside of the United States.
The first player from the @NFL’s International Player Pathway Program to score a TD 👏
@JohnsonJakob | @patsdeutsch pic.twitter.com/NzvbDvqHQQ
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 22, 2020
In 2004, the league launched the NFL International Practice Squad Program, where players from outside the United States or Canada were assigned to the practice squads of NFL teams. The program lasted for five years, and though it brought players to Arena Football, the United Football League, and the Canadian Football League, no significant breakthroughs made it to the NFL before the program ended.
In 2016, two former NFL players (including former Giants defensive lineman Osi Umenyiora) created a training program to set up meetings and tryouts with NFL teams for a small number of specially selected football players. This was named NFL Undiscovered, which is a series that exists to this day, now documenting the journey of the players currently in the IPPP.
The IPPP is clearly working. Nineteen out of 32 teams in the league have players signed through the program, with countries represented in Latin America and beyond. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more Latino players shining on the gridiron soon. Is Héctor Zepeda the chosen one? We’ll have to wait just a few more months to see.