It is 6:30 a.m. The Texas sun starts to rise above the flat landscape. Light penetrates through Jesse Munoz’s windows making it nearly impossible to sleep any longer.
This sunlight is the same natural alarm clock that has woken Jesse up every morning since the summer began almost a month before, letting him know that it’s time to get up and get ready for work.
He opens his eyes — squinting from the light, he unbuckles his seat belt and pulls open the back seat door of his mother’s 2002 Ford Exhibition. He feels the warm summer sun on his face as he quietly steps out of the vehicle, trying not to wake up his mother, brother and sister. He pushes the door shut then walks toward the edge of the gas station parking lot in which his family sleeps and sits down on a curb to wait for his landscaping crew to pick him up.
That summer going into eighth grade, Jesse was unable to do a lot of things that his classmates took for granted. While they were having sleepovers at each other’s houses, Jesse was sleeping in his mother’s car with his siblings. Instead of playing in a swimming pool, he was secretly bathing in them.
For a summer, this routine was the only sense of normalcy Jesse knew. What he didn’t know was that he had embarked on a journey that would eventually lead him out of San Marcos, Texas all the way to the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee.
Six years have passed from the time in which that memory originated.
Jesse no longer goes by his first name and instead is known as Munoz. Gone are the days when he had to work to help his mother put gas in the car that they were living in. Gone are the days when Jesse found himself without a place to call home.
Munoz has truly defied all the odds stacked against a kid with a “tough upbringing”. Not only is he a first-generation college student but also a student-athlete. Now a freshman at Maryville College, Munoz is a sociology major and hopes to one day be a police officer.
Munoz is an offensive lineman on the football team. Standing at 5’11” and 280 pounds, he is certainly a force to be reckoned with on the line of scrimmage. For most freshmen, playing college football is the hardest thing they have had to do in their life, which is not a difficult concept considering the sheer amount of time it takes to be a dedicated football player.
Furthermore, the amount of time and effort needed to be a student is even greater, making time management the number one problem for most freshman football players.
For Munoz, however, it’s actually the opposite.
“Coming to Maryville…is the first time in my life that I have truly been able to focus on myself,” Munoz said. “It is also the first time that I have had actual free time.”
Munoz perfected time management at a young age. Ever since his father decided to leave his family when he was 13, he knew he had to hold a job. Once he was legally old enough to work at 16, Munoz started working for the fast-food restaurant What-a-Burger. He continued to work there until he left for MC.
During the high school football season, Munoz worked every weekend, picking up the graveyard shift. Once the football season was over, he would go to work straight from school.
“Most of the time I was working, it was in the back behind the grill,” Munoz said. “It got really hot back there, but I tried to pick up as many shifts as possible cause I needed the money.”
Munoz hasn’t always played football, and the reasons why he even started playing aren’t the most typical. It wasn’t until the 6th grade that the thought of playing even went through his mind.
“One of the coaches saw me, saw how big I was compared to the other little guys, and wanted me to play on his team. He even helped us pay for it,” Munoz said.
At first Munoz used football as an escape, as a place to get away from the pain and heartbreak left by his dad and just go have fun.
In the 8th grade, however, Munoz began to see football in a new light.
“My brother and I were watching cartoons when we heard a loud noise in the kitchen. I rushed in to find my mother on the floor. I quickly tried to use what they taught me in football to tackle my dad, but I wasn’t able to. He was a lot stronger,” said Munoz. “That’s when I realized that if I couldn’t protect my mom from my dad, then how could I protect her from anyone else?”
This sparked a fire inside Munoz in the weight room and on the football field. He became one of the hardest working and strongest players on the team. During his senior year, college coaches started to notice.
The MC defensive line coach Ian Harris saw Munoz play on one of his infamous Texas recruiting trips.
“I saw a kid that didn’t take any plays off, that had some brute strength. After talking to his high school coach and meeting him, I knew it was a perfect fit.”
After taking a visit to MC last April, Munoz decided that it was the place for him. He fell in love with the campus, especially because he had never seen a mountain before.
He has loved MC ever since he arrived in early August. And though it’s tough being so far from his family, Munoz knows that Maryville is where he needed to be.
“Although it has been hard not seeing my siblings grow up, I am glad that I was able to get away from there,” said Munoz. “If you ever see me acting a fool it’s cause I feel like I can finally be a kid.”