Universal Language: Football Helped Jendy Cuello Transition From Life in the Dominican Republic to His New Home in Brockway
But, the third-grader found a common language to help him through the transition from life in the Dominican Republic to his brand-new world in Brockway, Pennsylvania.
(Photo by Madison McFarland)
“Before football, I didn’t really have many friends because I was afraid of coming up to people and talking to them,” Cuello said. “Playing football, you don’t really have a choice. You have to communicate and that’s how I started to make bonds with them. They are all the people I talk to to this day.”
Cuello has fit in well, both in his new surroundings and in a sport he had never seen just a few years ago.
Cuello, now a junior, has enjoyed a breakout campaign for the Brockway football team this season with 812 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.
But, before football came into his life, and long before he found success on the gridiron, Cuello was faced with a daunting task.
He had to acclimate to a new culture and learn a new language very quickly when he came to the United States just before the age of 10.
“Coming here was very challenging,” Cuello said. “The rule was everything had to be in English because I just had to adapt to things, and I was going to have to adapt quick. I had my own teacher to help teach me with the language. Eventually, after three to four months, I was able to speak enough to where I could understand and speak to people at the same time. I’m just grateful to the school and all the work they did to get me where I’m at right now.”
Cuello also worked hard.
He said learning English quickly came out of necessity.
“It was just kind of forced,” Cuello said. “You have social media and TV and stuff like that and it’s all in English. So, if you’re gonna enjoy those things, you have to learn.”
Cuello said it took even longer to truly feel comfortable in the United States.
“It probably took me a whole year before I felt like, ‘Hey, this my place now,’” Cuello said. “It was just all so new to me. I never experienced anything like it before. And it’s tough. I’m sure anybody who has been in my situation could agree with me on that. Being introduced to the sport of football is when it all started to turn around.”
Cuello had only heard about football in the Dominican Republic. It was just a passing curiosity in that country — baseball is king — and he had never seen a game.
That changed when he arrived in this country where American football sits at the top of the professional sports food chain.
“Whenever I first came here, I remember I went to a game,” Cuello said. “I liked the sport and decided to try it out. I can’t lie. My first two, three years, I had no clue what was happening.”
When Cuello reached high school, he was still somewhat in the dark about the nuances of the sport, even though he had played for several years.
That’s when Brockway coach Jake Heigel and his staff got their first glimpse of the very raw Cuello.
“He came in his freshman year and was just kind of this kid who you looked at and you’re like, ‘Oh, he’s gonna have to put a lot of time and effort into it to get on the field maybe in two years,” Heigel said. “You thought maybe he could play special teams by the time he’s a junior.”
What they weren’t aware of at the time was work ethic always translates well.
And Cuello is fluent.
Cuello studied the game, both on television, on film, and in person. He watched older players and how they did things. He asked questions.
By the end of last season, he got a chance to play running back in limited action.
“Toward the end of our last home game, we decided why not put me in for a little bit,” Cuello said. “That’s kind of when they saw there was some potential there.”
Cuello also needed to learn the intricacies of playing running back, things like reading blocks and anticipating where the running lanes will be.
It’s not easy. Even players who have grown up in football pads struggle with that.
Cuello was singularly minded. As soon as he got the ball, he ran forward. No moves. No cuts. Just put his head down, trying to get as many yards as he could. It wasn’t very effective and he struggled.
But, things finally began to click. Cuello started seeing the field better. Started making moves. Started making tacklers miss.
“It just kind of started moving at a pace that I could understand and made the game fun overall,” Cuello said. “You just notice whenever you play the game those little things that can be critical to the game and might not seem as big but at the end of the day are big.”
Cuello showed enough to pique Heigel’s interest toward the end of last season.
There was still one big problem: Cuello was undersized.
He was challenged to put some weight and muscle on his 5-foot-9 frame.
Cuello didn’t disappoint, adding 40 pounds of lean muscle during the offseason through weight training, diet, and agility drills. He went from a scrawny 135 pounds to a powerful 175 pounds. He became a back with the ability to skirt tacklers as well as put his head down and run them over.
He also developed a devastating stiff arm, which he has unleashed on unsuspecting opponents this season.
“It was very important to me,” Cuello said. “I went to the gym four or five times a week and went to morning workouts that the coach provided us with, and eventually, I got to the goal I wanted of 170 pounds. There were times when I felt like I wasn’t motivated, and I felt like I really didn’t have to do this, that I would be OK. But, I’m a person that I’m not satisfied. I like to be at the top.”
Cuello has gotten stronger as the season has progressed.
The last two weeks have been his finest in an offense that has a reputation of beating teams through the air, not on the ground.
Cuello rushed for 159 yards on 27 carries against Ridgway and then followed that up with 182 yards on 33 attempts against Redbank Valley last week.
“It’s very impressive what he’s done,” Heigel said. “I can’t express enough how hard he worked in the offseason to get to the point where he’s at.”
Cuello has also learned a very important skill for a running back.
The ability to shower praise upon the people he relies on the most. The offensive line.
He’s learned well.
“I’m proud of myself for what I’ve done, yes, but I like to give my linemen more credit because they’re the heart of this,” Cuello said. “Most of my carries I have huge holes that they’re creating for me. At the end of the day, I just kind of give credit to them. It’s all thanks to them.”
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