EAST CHICAGO | The weight of the world, his new world, hung flatly on his shoulders, like a semi-truck full of continents and refrigerators.
Finding a distant breath wasn't easy.
"My legs were shaking, all this pressure was on me," E.C. Central senior kicker Daniel Flores said. "I knew if we lose it would be my fault."
Flores was on the sidelines at Pete Rucinski Stadium last Friday night. His E.C. Central Cardinals were in a full-throttle battle with third-ranked New Prairie in the Class 4A regional.
It was overtime. Flores had already missed three extra points.
"At halftime I was by myself, thinking," Flores said.
Martayveus Carter scored on a 2-yard run to tie the game. The standout running back bound for Northern Illinois walked over to Flores and spoke.
"I believe in you," Carter said. "You can do this."
So Flores walked onto the field with 25-plus years of heavy history hanging in the balance.
"I keep my head down," Flores said. "I want to help team. There were too many eyes looking to me. I kicked the ball and I knew it was good. I started screaming and crying and running all over the field. My team tackled me.
"It was the biggest day of my life."
The 38-37 win over the Cougars gave the school its first regional championship ever. The Cardinals will play Fort Wayne Dwenger tonight at Zollner Stadium in the Class 4A Northern Semistate.
The winner will advance to the state championship at Lucas Oil Stadium on Nov. 30.
Flores grew up in Mexico City, a city of nine million people. Loneliness and poverty had the young man searching for a greater opportunity.
His parents worked so much they were rarely home. So he took care of his two younger siblings.
"It was sad sometimes," he said. "I want better life. School. Sports. This was my dream."
Not knowing a word of English, Flores moved to East Chicago to live with his uncle, Beto Hernandez. He was in awe of what most Americans take for granted.
"The streets here clean, everything look nice and neat," he said. "Mexico, you no want to see."
Uncle Beto was like a Marine boot camp sergeant. No Spanish words were allowed to be spoken in the home. Not one.
"His first word in the house was in Spanish, I said, 'What?'" Beto said of his nephew. "Only English here. I said 'What?' a lot. Then, after awhile, I didn't have to say it as much."
Flores learned the language watching television. The Big Bang Theory was his favorite. Now a U.S. Permanent Resident, he likes the smart characters on the show.
"I like comedy, too," he said.
Football practice was tough at first. He could not communicate with his teammates. His nickname with the Cardinals is "Listo," which means ready in Spanish.
"I did not know how to say ready for kickoffs," Flores said. "So they ask me how to say in Mexican. So I say, 'Listo.' That became my name."
Flores worked hard in the classroom, too, with Uncle Beto's foot on his back. Flores once got a C in a class and every electronic device was taken away, including his phone.
Now Flores is on the National Honor Society.
Conversations like this helped him get there.
"I want to go hang out with my friends," Flores said.
"No, you came here to study," Beto would reply.
"I want to go to the park."
"No, you came here to study."
"Can I just do nothing?"
"No," Beto said over and over again. "I'm old school."
On Saturdays Flores goes to Ivy Tech for four hours and takes a high-level science class, just because. On Sundays he worked 12 hours at Hammond's El Taco Real, where his aunt, Raquel Hernandez, has worked for 38 years.
The entire family was in the bleachers last Friday as Daniel walked out on the field.
"If he would've missed another one I would've put him on the next bus back home," Beto said with a smile.
"I thought if he missed it they would egg our house," Raquel laughed.
"My heart was beating for him," said his cousin, Vanessa Hernandez, a former Cardinals basketball player and employee at the school.
When the ball went flying between the posts, the nerves exploded into complete community ecstasy. It's never as good as the first time.
"It was E.C. at its best," Vanessa said of last Friday's mood. "When you win here everyone loves you. Everyone in this town talks about the '71 Washington basketball team. Now, Daniel has gone down in history, too."
Back on the field
There is probably a misconception by some that the kicker at the inner-city school's misses last Friday were common. Many urban programs struggle with special teams.
But Flores is 41-of-54 in extra points and 2-for-4 in field goals.
"Yeah, I knew Daniel was going to make it," E.C. coach Stacy Adams said. "I trust him out there. But if New Prairie would've made their extra point, we would've gone for two."
Flores also swims. He competes in the 200 and the 100 Fly. His work ethic can be seen at the school, when he gets a few moments to himself.
He looks up Michael Phelps training videos to watch, to learn, to dream.
"I want to be in the Olympics," Flores said. "I want to be the best I can be."
Had he not done the papers and moved in up here he knows his life would be much different. Tonight, he has a chance, with his teammates, to make even bigger history.
He is grateful that America opened her doors. He is thankful his family opened their arms.
"I couldn't have done none of this without them," Daniel said. "I love them so much. I love my team. I love my city."
His hope for a better life has become much more than ever imagined. American football is huge in Mexico. That brought the 5-foot-9, 155-pound Flores to the States with a magnetic pull.
He tried out for every position on the team. He wasn't good enough. He was all but cut. But that didn't kill the pulse or slow the steps.
So here he is with his teammates, just 48 minutes away from playing on the same field as the Indianapolis Colts.
The hot, broken-bottle glass has been transformed onto icy broken-bottle streets where unbelievable faith is still alive.
"I believe we can do this," Flores said. "No one else does, but that's all right. We do."