Sept. 17, 2009
Zach Barnett, Texas Media Relations
Three years ago, Texas Ex Ben De Leon never guessed he would be standing inside the Bubble, watching his favorite team prepare for game day. But three years ago, De Leon had not met then seven-year-old Anthony Saldana.
The two met through a mentoring program at De Leon’s church, and soon the pair had been matched through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. They instantly bonded, and three years later, De Leon was named national Big Brother of the Year at the annual banquet in Miami this past July.
Big Brother of the Year was not the only prize De Leon took from the stage. NFL Hall of Famer Lynn Swann was part of the banquet and saw the video of De Leon and Saldana, which was shot on the UT campus.
“He saw how much UT has influenced our relationship and the importance of education,” De Leon explained. “He said, ‘Well you know what, I happen to know Mack Brown. I tell you what, Anthony, I’ll make you a promise – we’ll get you into a practice.’ He announced that in front of the entire audience. True to his word, we’re here today.”
Watching practice was a wish several years in the making come true.
“I’d never been to a UT practice before,” De Leon said. “It was pretty neat. I was a student here and I always wanted to come to practice. I always wondered what was inside the Bubble. I finally got to see what being inside the Bubble was like. It was a great experience and we really enjoyed it.”
Saldana, now 11, was appreciative of the chance to watch practice and meet QB Colt McCoy, WR Jordan Shipley and DE Sam Acho.
“It was cool,” Saldana beamed. “It was my first time watching them practice. Being in the Bubble is pretty cool. Getting to watch people practice that I see on TV, and then being able to meet them is really cool.”
When asked what his friends at school will say when he met McCoy, Shipley and Acho, Saldana quipped, “I don’t think they’ll believe me.”
Melanie Chasteen, Vice President of Market and Communications for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas, organized the visit and was thankful of the help she received from the Texas football program.
“It was a really good experience,” Chasteen said. “Like Ben said, Lynn Swann was amazing in helping coordinate the whole thing and getting us in here. It came together relatively easily and we thank the UT football program and Mack Brown’s office for helping us set it up.”
As practice concluded, De Leon, always looking for ways to teach Saldana, explained how Thursday’s visit will impact Saldana.
“I’ve seen Anthony gain maturity and become more confident in himself through this process,” said De Leon. “It’s been very humbling. Anthony hopefully will be able to realize what he is capable of doing. He can play football, he can be in the marching band, he’s capable of attending UT if he keeps his grades up. I think he knows the importance of that, and he saw it in the flesh today in getting to meet Colt McCoy, his favorite player, Jordan Shipley, guys he sees every Saturday and he sees that they are regular, every day students.
“This is something Anthony and I will never forget.”