MONTERREY, MEXICO — The next Mexican in the NFL could be a 6-foot-4 tight end with soft hands, slow feet and braces on his teeth.
But Daniel Roldan, a fifth-year player at Monterrey Tech, Mexico's top football school, isn't making plans just yet.
"I think we need more time," says Roldan, who has already auditioned twice for NFL scouts and expects to be invited back for another tryout early next year.
The knock on Roldan, the NFL says, is that he's too slow to be a wideout and, at 220 pounds, too light to be a tight end. But as Mexican football gets more sophisticated about its training and conditioning, those arguments won't hold much longer.
"Before, there weren't any big players," Roldan says. "Now there are kids 15, 16 who are as big as us. That's going to help. The future of Mexican football is very good."
It's a future that figures to include Luis Iago Cano, a quick and explosive senior running back at Monterrey's Prepa Tech who will play college football in Mexico next season.
"Getting to the NFL is a dream," says Cano, who began playing football in junior high and has already distinguished himself against some of Texas' top high school teams. "It's not like the Mexico of the past, where you'd say, 'I'm here in Mexico, this is where I'm going to live my life.'
"Now there are examples to follow. That's something that's going to make it easier for us to go to the United States."
Just don't expect a stampede any time soon.
Jorge Ibarra, an assistant coach at Monterrey Tech and its high school affiliate, Prepa Tech, says graduating three or four players to the NFL every five years would be a huge success for Mexico.
"When I was a player 15 years ago, I couldn't even think about the NFL," says Ibarra, an offensive lineman in college who is now dwarfed by many of the high school kids he coaches. "Now they're dreaming about it. That has been a huge motivation for our kids."