There are few things that attest to the enduring power of high school athletics more strongly than how relationships forged in the crucible of competition can later blossom into lifelong friendships. Or, in some cases, working partnerships.
One of the most meaningful partnerships of that type emerged among a pair of Rio Grande Valley football foes, who are now campaigning alongside each other in the U.S. army in Afghanistan.
As chronicled by the McAllen Monitor’s Saul Berrios-Thomas, Ruben Gutierrez and Jose De Leon played against each other for McAllen and Brownsville Rivera in the second round of the 2014 state playoffs. Gutierrez was a McAllen defensive back while De Leon lined up on the Rivera defensive line.
Both men graduated in 2015, then enlisted in the military. Both decided to become mechanics in the Army, and both went through basic training in Colorado before being deployed to Afghanistan.
It wasn’t until both men were in Afghanistan that they met and realized they had once lined up across from each other in a Texas high school football game. The rest, as they say, is history.
The pair see each other frequently, with De Leon traditionally initiating some good natured trash talk since Rivera won both matchups between the schools during their shared tenure in high school football. Both also participate in occasional football games between members of different military companies in the field, and at least one plans to continue his career once he returns to the states.
“My plan is to go to UTSA and try to walk on,” Gutierrez told the Monitor. “I have a friend who is there now. He was telling me the coach is tough, and they are always looking for DBs. Sounds like a perfect fit to me.”
Given what Gutierrez is going through in Afghanistan, it’s hard to imagine a better fit. Maybe he can even bring a certain defensive lineman along with him. It would only be fitting.