From Texas Wesleyan to the Texas Longhorns and back, Daniel Trejo’s next stop might be the NFL

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Daniel Trejo and a friend walked into the athletic director’s office at River Oaks Castleberry High School during the summer of 2016, intending to play a sport during their senior season. Trejo thought he'd play soccer, considering that was the sport he played growing up. However, the coach had other plans.

“We met with the athletic director, and after the meeting, he said, ‘Welcome to the football team,’” Trejo said. “I didn’t want to play football, so I had a choice to make whether to show up for practice or not.”

Trejo and his friend followed through on their commitment to join the football team. The Lions finished the season 1-9, but Trejo showed his natural ability to kick the ball and earned second-team District 5-4A honors as a punter.

Trejo thought his football career was over after high school, and spent the next two years as a student at Tarrant County College. While at TCC, he remained unsure of the direction he wanted to take with his life and career. So, Trejo gave football another shot. However, he had not played football or even practiced kicking between 2017 and 2019. 

Sitting in his room one night, he wrote down ‘Division I’ on an index card. Trejo’s goal was set. He wanted to play at an FBS school. He set out to achieve his goal and contacted multiple Division I special teams coaches. But no one he contacted allowed Trejo a tryout.

His cousin suggested that Trejo look at walking on at Texas Wesleyan, an NAIA school in his hometown of Fort Worth. Trejo enrolled at TxWes, and his counselor introduced him to an assistant coach on the football team, Paul Duckworth.

Duckworth, kicking coach David Murphy, and head coach Joe Prud’homme invited Trejo for a tryout.

“It was the biggest tryout of my life,” Trejo said. “I didn’t think I was kicking the ball well during the tryout. I was certain I had no chance to make the team.”

“He came out and started to boom the ball,” Prud’homme recalled. “Murphy asked him if he wanted to kick for us, and he said he wanted to get to Division I. We asked if he would give us a chance. He got excited and said he would give us a chance.”

Trejo saw his first action with the Rams during the COVID season of 2020. He didn’t see consistent playing time until the 2021 season, five whole years after earning all-district at Castleberry.

The 2021 season was the turning point in Trejo’s football career. He placed 10 of his 24 attempts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line while averaging 39.1 yards with four punts longer than 50 yards. His efforts earned him a spot on the All-Sooner Athletic Conference second team

Trejo began working with a kicking coach in Frisco. Former Texas kicker Cameron Dicker met Trejo while he was preparing for the NFL Draft. Dicker was impressed with Trejo’s ability and reached out to coaches at Texas, who requested to see game film.

The Longhorns offered Trejo a chance to walk on for the 2022 season, his final year of NCAA eligibility. According to NCAA rules, Trejo’s eligibility clock began when he enrolled at Tarrant County College in 2017. This was his only chance to achieve the goal pinned to the bedroom wall at his parent’s house.

Trejo completed his undergraduate from Texas Wesleyan at the end of July 2022. Due to some issues with his transcripts, he joined the Longhorns program on August 20, two weeks before Texas played Louisiana-Monroe in its season opener.

“That summer was the toughest of my life,” Trejo said. “I had to do so much to get to Austin, and I couldn’t train with them until August 20. They were already done with fall camp and were preparing for ULM. I only had two weeks to prove myself.”

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian did not release a two-deep for the Longhorns heading into the ULM game. Most beat writers had redshirt freshman Isaac Pearson as the starting punter, with no one listed as the backup. The coaching staff had told Trejo to be prepared to punt against the Warhawks.

On the Longhorns first punt against ULM, Pearson bobbled the snap, was indecisive about running the ball, and kicked the ball 15 yards. When the Longhorns were forced to punt to begin the fourth quarter, Sarkisian signaled for Trejo.

The largest crowd Trejo had seen during his football career before Texas was 7,246 fans at Central Arkansas in 2021. Now here he was, standing in his own end zone, in front of 94,873 fans inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, knowing this was his chance to prove he belonged in Division I.

“(ULM) had a full rush coming at me on that punt,” Trejo recalls. “The first punt was mishandled, and we were beating them pretty good. They had nothing to lose at that point.”

The punt traveled 43 yards. Trejo’s next punt went 37 yards, and Sarkisian named Trejo the starting punter heading into the Longhorns showdown with No. 1 Alabama. Sarkisian expressed disappointment after Trejo’s first punt against the Crimson Tide traveled 37 yards. Trejo’s next punt traveled a career-long 61 yards to the Alabama 21-yard line.

During his lone season at Texas, Trejo averaged 42 yards per punt, with 13 placed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line and only three were touchbacks.

There’s a new index card pinned to the wall of Trejo’s bedroom. This one reads, ‘NFL’ and sits underneath the original index card.

NFL scouts and front office personnel told Trejo he needed another year of film to prove his ability to kickoff and hold for field goals. With his NCAA eligibility used up, Trejo is back at Texas Wesleyan. He is in his final year of NAIA eligibility, but this won’t be his last year to play football.

“It’s amazing to watch him work. He never stops moving. He’s working on his drops, he’s stretching, working on a drill to get more backspin on the ball, or he’s working to get the ball to bounce sideways,” Prud’homme said. “He’s doing all this while working a job and getting his MBA. I have all the respect in the world for Daniel.”

Trejo will attend a kicking showcase for the XFL in San Diego in two weeks. His ultimate goal is to reach the NFL; all he needs is a chance.

“He has a level of determination and an insane work ethic. It’s mind-boggling,” Prud’homme said. “His game went to another level at Texas. The most impressive thing is he’s been a true walk-on at two different programs - one of them being Texas. I have no doubt he will make the NFL.”

“The only way to make it to the NFL is when you sacrifice everything you have,” Trejo said. “The work will pay off. It may not work out the first time, but you can’t give up. I just need that one person to believe in me and give me a chance.”

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