KYLE, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Growing up in a small town known for its unique yellow bridge, Rio Hondo native Roberto Garza had big dreams.
“Growing up in Rio Hondo my first dream was to play Friday night football and play for the Bobcats,” said the former NFL football player. “Then maybe I can play college football. That was the dream.”
It was a far-fetched idea considering his parents didn’t think highly of sports.
“Both of my parents were born and raised in Mexico,” Garza said. “Sports wasn’t a big thing in my house.”
He vividly remembers the first time he asked his mother if he could play football.
“She was like you’re going to get hurt,” said the former Bobcat. “First time I got a twisted ankle; she rubbed my ankle and she’s like I told you.”
No matter what happened to him on the field, Garza was determined to keep on playing.
“I was like mom, I love this,” he said.
He loved the sport so much that he decided to join the Texas A&M-Kingsville football team as a walk-on.
Garza was determined to not only make the team but also reach the sport’s biggest stage.
“Once I get there and play there, maybe one day I’ll get a chance to play in the NFL.”
Garza, an offensive lineman, made his presence felt quickly.
“I started my freshman year (four games),” Garza said. “Started my second year. Came close to the national championship. Came back my third year as a preseason All-American and it was like wow, I might have a chance to continue and play. “
Current Javelina’s head coach Michael Salinas was Garza’s college teammate.
“After his first semester in college you saw his progression,” Salinas said. “Robert was one of the few that started here as a freshman. He played a lot of snaps as a Javelina.”
The Rio Hondo native also shined as a track and field athlete. He won a pair of national titles in the shot put.
“My junior year going into my senior year they did the combined test at the school, 225-pound bench press, 40-yard dash,” said Garza. “All my numbers compared to the top centers in the country were pretty good. Top five in all the stuff. That’s when the buzz started, I guess.”
In 2001, the first three rounds of the NFL Draft were held on a Saturday.
“We were at my house in Rio Hondo with all my family, my grandparents and family and friends just waiting for the call,” Garza said. “It didn’t happen on Saturday. There was a little letdown, you start to worry.”
The next morning Garza and his family went to church. He received a phone call from a secretary with the Atlanta Falcons when came back home.
“She said Coach Dan Reeves would like to talk to you,” Garza said. “He comes on the phone and says how would you like to be an Atlanta Falcon? At that moment all my hard work and everything I had put into it, that dream had come true.”
Atlanta selected the Rio Hondo native in the fourth round (99th overall pick).
Once he stepped on the field as an NFL player, Garza started to think back on his journey to the league.
“Here I am in Atlanta about to block the Steelers, I remember going to Progreso, Hidalgo, Santa Rosa, and all schools in our district, La Feria, Lyford and Puerto Isabel, playing against those teams, and I’m playing against the Steelers,” Garza said.
He quickly realized he had to focus on the game.
“Then I got blasted, it was a surreal moment,” said Garza. “I got to block somebody. Moments like that put it into the perspective of how far I came. It wakes up, if you want this to last, you have to go out there and do your job and do everything as best as you can.”
Garza played 14 seasons in the NFL. His first four years were spent in Atlanta.
He then played 10 seasons with the Chicago Bears. Garza played in Super Bowl XLI as a member of the Bears.
After his playing days, Garza worked as a Spanish-language NFL analyst.
The Rio Hondo legend decided to take a break from broadcasting to spend more time with his kids.