When Jaguars WR Keelan Cole visited Mexico early this Spring as an NFL player ambassador for the Tochito National Tournament, he expected to sign a few autographs, teach participants some new skills, select the MVP and present a championship trophy. Now that he's back home, the third-year wide receiver is the first to admit the experience far exceeded his original expectations.
"Going [to Mexico] and seeing all that I saw – it helps me be more grateful to play this game," Cole said. "Those kids were happy to play football. For me, the word is 'grateful.' I realize how different their lives are and what they are going through compared to what I am, and it gives me perspective."
Cole partnered with NFL Mexico and spent March 22-24 in Mexico City volunteering with the NFL Tochito tournament. When he arrived at the field on Saturday morning, he got right to work, participating in the celebratory coin toss before signing autographs for nearly 400 kids. He played dodgeball and participated in relay races with the kids as part of an NFL PLAY 60 clinic, a program designed to encourage kids to get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Then came time for the seven-on-seven games.
The winner of the NFL Tochito Tournament is rewarded a grand prize opportunity to attend an NFL game. Cole said while the matches were competitive with high stakes, sportsmanship and unity ultimately prevailed. His favorite part of the event was the spirit of teamwork and the inclusion of girls.
"Honestly, my favorite part was the fact that it was co-ed," Cole said. "That was great to see and also that everyone was so involved. Sometimes when kids in America play, I feel like everyone wants to score touchdowns or be the best player on the team. Watching these games, though, it just felt united. Everybody was getting along, and just trying to do their part to help their team win."
In addition to football, Cole was able to take advantage of the travel opportunity and learn about the history of Mexico City. He took a memorable tour of the pyramids in Teotihuacan and learned about the powerful iconography of the jaguar in Mesoamerican cultures.
"It was cool to learn about another country's history and form my own opinion," Cole said. "It teaches you that there is more out there that what you see on a daily basis."
Cole returned to the playing field on Sunday for the championship game and then flew back to Florida following the event.
While Cole plans to be in Jacksonville for the near future with the Jaguars' offseason program approaching on April 15, he hopes to continue to work with youth football and apply his takeaways from the trip to his life.
"It felt like such a family atmosphere," Cole said. "The unity out there was amazing. It was men, boys, women, girls. I'm grateful that I was able to play with them, and that I get to play in front of them. I'm glad they're watching because I want to do whatever I can to help them on and off the field."