In 2011, the Gustavus football team traveled to Mexico for their first international experience in Cancun. While there, the team took part in a clinic and youth camp where they tackled the challenge of teaching the kids football skills. Over the duration of the trip, the young athletes learned a lot from the Gusties, who were regarded as role models after the clinic.
On the third day of the trip, the team traveled to Casa Hogar Esperanza, an orphanage in Cancun that houses 17 students. The team donated to the orphanage to help keep it running, and presented individual gifts to the children while they were there.
The purpose of the trip was not only to compete with teams in Cancun, but also to serve as an opportunity for the team to make a difference off campus.
“I wanted to combine an international experience with a service project,” Head Football Coach Peter Haugen said.
The trip inspired the coaches to start recruiting some of the young athletes from Mexico to join the team. According to Haugen, when they recruit athletes from Mexico, they look for young men that have been academically successful, and have the ability to do well on campus outside of practice and games.
“Football is growing by leaps and bounds in Mexico. Peter Nyhus was walking through a neighborhood in Cancun, and saw kids playing football and it took off from there,” Haugen stated.
Nyhus, an alumnus from the late 1950s, generously supports the Gustavus football program. He was a member of one of the first teams to play in the NAIA Playoffs after winning the MIAC Championship.
Nyhus has taken it upon himself to help recruit promising individuals for the team, and has had a positive impact on the program as a whole.
“I met with Peter Nyhus, and he told me about Gustavus, and how it would change my life. He told me how important it would be for me to come here. He created a fund for the people in the area that we live in to allow a lot of us to go here,” First-year Bruno Rocha said.
Recruitment is often a difficult task for coaches, because athletes make their decision based on a number of factors, not just athletics. Nyhus worked with athletes to ease their concerns and overcome obstacles keeping them from a better education.
“After the tryouts, I was starting college in Mexico. I wasn’t planning on going to Gustavus because it was too expensive. Peter Nyhus contacted me, and we had a meeting with my parents. We talked about a scholarship, and we decided that I should come here. If Peter had not explained to me how much the school would help and support me, I would not have come here,” First-year Iker Ortiz Hidalgo said.
Thus far, Gustavus has six athletes from Cancun playing for the football team who would not be here if it were not for the efforts of the football coaches and Nyhus. The international experience gave the students an opportunity to learn from the Gusties, as well as to show their abilities.
“They did some clinics three years ago, and I went. I trained with the quarterback, and the coaches asked if I wanted to come to Gustavus and I said ‘yeah, of course,’” First-year Mauricio Miranda Flores said.
As of now, Haugen is planning another trip in the hope that the team will again positively impact young athletes on an international scale.