The Mayas take the field last year during the Liga de Fútbol Americano's inaugural season in Mexico. American football has taken off in Mexico and is currently the number two sport after traditional fútbo (soccer).
The league has struggled with attendance but Mexico is the largest NFL market outside the U.S. and league officials and players are optimistic they'll be able to tap into that popularity.
Mexico's national team is well respected by international opponents. In 2016 they faced off against the United States in the finals of the World University Championship of American Football, hosted in Monterrey, Mexico. The U.S. team, made up of D3 and D2 players from U.S. universities, came away with a good deal of respect for their opponents. "It's not just the U.S.A. that's good at football anymore," said U.S. defensive end Fred Clearman III, who played at Malone University, an NCAA Division II school in Canton, Ohio.
The LFA isn't the first professional American football league in Mexico. The Liga Master shutdown in 1996 after seven seasons. The new league's founder, Juan Carlos Vazquez, a veteran sports journalist in Mexico, wrote his MBA thesis on the Liga Master and is confident this time will be different.
The LFA's players are paid and passionate about the sport but they also all have full-time jobs. The league can't afford to pay them full salaries yet.
Mayas quarterback Marco Garcia is one of the league's biggest stars. Garcia studied engineering in college and despite a grueling training schedule and full time job as the quarterback's coach for the famed Instituto Politécnico Nacional's college football program, he makes time to study German. a language he'll need for his post football career in mechanical engineering. Here, Garcia's bedroom at his parent's home in Mexico City.
The Condors, who finished last in the LFA's premier season, videotape their practices.
The Rios brothers – Raul, Rodrigo, and Roberto – play for the Mayas, and the family gathers after every game for a meal at their grandmother's house.
Monterrey Tech is a nationwide network of universities and high schools. The main campus, in Monterrey, Mexico is home to the nation's leading football program, modeled on the NCAA in the United States. The team is dominant, boasting 21 national titles, 17 of them in the past 30 years.
The contemporary football program at Monterrey Tech was built by Francisco "Frank" Gonzalez who grew up in the U.S. and came to Monterrey Tech in 1975. Comparing his football program to JFK he said, "He came up with putting a man on the moon, and my version of that was to get one of my players into the NFL." And it happened when Rolando Cantú signed to the Arizona Cardinals practice squad in 2004, becaming the first Mexican player in the NFL.
A Monterrey Tech cheerleader before a home game in October 2016.
Rolando Cantú remains the only Mexican born non-kicker to make it to the NFL but the LFA hopes to establish itself as a significant feeder of Mexican talent to the NFL. League rules only permit two non-Mexican players per team.
It's not just professional leagues that are blowing up here, little league is huge. And unlike in the U.S., it's popular with girls too. As Isabella Villalobos, second from left, prepares for her second ever game she says, "It's the best sport you can play."
LFA players manage busy lives. Because the league doesn't yet pay enough they all have full time jobs outside of football. Here, players pile into a car after an evening, mid-week practice.
The NFL, which sponsors touchito – Spanglish for touch football – estimates that nationwide 2.5 million boys and girls play the sport. The NFL's business and viewership, meanwhile, has been grown 300 per cent in recent years.
With new TV sponsorships and game attendance up in their second year, the LFA plans to grow from its original four teams to eight in the next two years and eventually they have plans to reach ten teams.