What if Seth Small didn’t have the wildest evening at Kyle Field during Texas A&M’s upset victory over Alabama? Sure, Small hit the game-winning kick that sent the 12th Man into rapture, but the person Small took a picture with in the locker room had an even more improbable night.
Alex Sunderland isn’t an Aggie. He’s a student at UTSA. He’s 22 years old, and had never been to an A&M game before he found a VIP pass on the ground outside of the stadium. What happened next is the stuff of social media legend:
“I didn’t buy tickets to the game at all,” Sunderland says. “I had no plans to go to the game. This VIP pass that I found, it’s not even to get into the game, it was an event for a local radio station in College Station. I should not have gotten into everywhere I got into.”
Sunderland isn’t kidding. The pass designer even uploaded a TikTok echoing that exact sentiment.
Sunderland was outside the stadium drinking at a Latino community tailgate—he wasn’t even watching the game, and he wasn’t even at the tailgate that the pass granted him access to when he came across it on the ground. But it said VIP in bold letters, so he thought to himself that he might as well try. Best case: He gets into the game. Worst case: He comes back to the party.
He ended up making it into the stadium around halftime, and didn’t feel like sitting in the nosebleeds.
“I’m not gonna go to the nosebleed section; I’m gonna go front row,” Sunderland says. “I’m trying to get the best seats in the house. As I’m going down the stairs in between the stands I remember when I was a senior in high school I got recruited by UTSA to be a kicker. So I knew that the recruits, we all sat in a special designated section and they always had great seats. So I was like, I’m just gonna say I was a recruit. I know that they treat football players and the football staff like royalty in College Station. Everyone treats them so well, so that’s why I said, ‘Ya know what, I’m gonna pretend to be a recruit and I’m gonna get the special treatment I deserve.’ ”
So Sunderland told an usher he was a recruit, and while he waited for the usher to figure out what to do with him, some teenage Aggie fans showed him some hospitality and let him sit in their seats. He got directed onto the field toward a sideline club area where recruits are hosted. That’s when his heritage kicked in.
Sunderland’s parents are Mexican, although he was born in San Antonio. He joked that his house growing up might as well be the Mexican consulate. He wasn’t allowed to speak English at home because his parents wanted to preserve his roots. He learned both languages simultaneously as a child and is fluent in both, but A&M’s recruiting staff didn’t have to know that.
“I see her go get this guy, and this guy’s coming at me and right there it hits me. I’m like ‘Oh my gosh, these recruits have been with each other the entire day,’ ” Sunderland says. “They’re gonna know I’m not supposed to be there with them. This guy’s been with them, he’s gonna recognize I’m not supposed to be there. What do I do? So when he comes up to me and says ‘you’re a recruit?’ I saw it in his face. He just did not believe me and then the first thing that came to mind is: I’m gonna pretend I don’t speak English. So I just go, ‘Yes, me kicker, me kicker from Mexico. Me kicker recruit.’ And he goes, ‘Oh yeah, of course; follow me.’ I said under my breath, ‘There’s no way this is happening.’ ”
But it was.
Sunderland did have a cup of coffee with the UTSA program as a Roadrunners walk-on after kicking at a local San Antonio high school, and it was his first time at Kyle Field, so not everything was a complete fabrication. From A&M’s Hall Of Champions, he ended up in the third row. He figured the kicker excuse would hold up because although he’s 22, the athletes A&M actually recruits look older than he is. He told those sitting next to him he wasn’t sure whether he’d commit because he planned to go to Clemson next week. He ended up speaking to an A&M recruiting official in fluent Spanish, claiming he was lost and that’s why he didn’t show up until halftime. They let him sit and enjoy the game. And then it ended thanks to Small’s game-winner.
Sunderland joined the group that rushed the field.
“I’m on the field. I’m like, ‘This is crazy; what am I doing here?’ Literally an hour and a half ago I was drinking at a tailgate and now I’m rushing the field for a school I don’t even go to. So after like two or three minutes, I’m on the field and everyone’s having a good time. I realize I don’t wanna just be on the field, I wanna try and go into the locker room. I find the first player I see, I tap his shoulder, I say, ‘Yes, me kicker, me recruit. Locker room? Locker room?’ And the guy goes, ‘They told you to go to the locker room?’ Just follow me.’ ”
Somehow, the player he ended up meeting was backup kicker Randy Bond. He followed him into the tunnel, where his ruse met its stiffest test.
“I see five police officers and I’m like, ‘Game over, they’re stopping all the fans from going in,’ ” Sunderland says. “So first Bond goes in and I’m like five inches behind him and I just flash my pass and go ‘VIP,’ and the cop goes ‘O.K., go ahead.’ I’m like, ‘This is insane; this pass is getting me everywhere. I’m just in the Texas Aggies locker room. I can’t believe I’m here.’ ”
He figured if anyone came up to him while he was in the locker room he’d claim he was with Bond “… but nobody ever asked me anything. That’s the craziest part out of this entire experience, nobody doubted me a second.”
Those non-doubters included quarterback Zach Calzada, who is also Latino and, shortly after playing the game of his life, met the kicking recruit from Mexico.
“And in Spanish [Calzada] goes ¿Que onda, guey? ¿Hablas español?” Sunderland says. “He spoke Spanish to me. So he spoke to me for like 10–15 seconds. Some of the players were laughing. And I’m like, ‘Let’s take a picture.’ So I took a picture with the quarterback. I’m like, ‘Good game.’ He’s like, ‘Dude, hopefully you come here. It’s an awesome school.’ ”
He got a picture with Calzada, then asked Bond (also pictured above) who the head coach was. Sunderland says he’d never even seen a picture of Jimbo Fisher.
“[Fisher] was just sitting on a bench with his head between his hands. He was in his moment. He can’t believe what just happened. He just beat Alabama,” recalls Sunderland. “So I’m like, ‘I’m gonna go talk to him.’ ”
He tapped Fisher on the shoulder, thanked him for the invitation for his “recruiting visit,” and then he got a pitch.
“He goes ‘I’m glad you had a great time. We have a great program here. We have a great family and a great community. I hope you really consider it.’ And I’m laughing to myself, this guy is actually recruiting me right now. He has no idea I’m 22.”
He took a picture with Fisher …
… then got a prime location for Fisher’s hoarse postgame speech (Sunderland plans to sell the recording as an NFT on the urging of a friend).
Before he left, he met the true hero of the evening, Small.
“I go up to him and I go, ‘Great game, kick: más o menos.’ Then I go, ‘Nah, I’m just kidding.’ ” And then Sunderland spilled to his fellow specialists.
“I was like, ‘I gotta tell these guys; I feel bad not telling them the truth.’ So I go up to the two kickers and I was like, ‘I speak fluent English. I’m not a recruit. I go to UTSA, I am actually a kicker, I did kick in high school. Just found this pass on the ground. I just found my way in here. I can’t believe this is happening.’ Instead of them being mad, they just start laughing. They’re like, ‘What? That’s crazy; you’re a great actor. I totally believed you. Good luck to you; don’t steal anything.’ And then I just walked out, and that was my adventure.”
With his secret divulged, he left and went to a bar with his friends and then later a house party where he was the star of the show (at that point, his 24-hour Instagram story had tipped his followers off about his night). He went back to San Antonio on Sunday and has been shocked at how a story he initially didn’t even plan to record as a TikTok with a one-take voiceover has blown up.
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He’s done a radio interview and been quoted in his local paper, all thanks to some liquid courage, some faked broken English and a pass that looked just real enough to get him all over Kyle Field. And if it is his last time, he’ll have quite the story to tell about going from a tailgate to the winning locker room.
“If they ban me from the stadium I don’t care. I’m never gonna come back here; it’s not a big deal.”
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