The Buffalo Bills and the National Football League honored two student athletes from Western New York during Sunday’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders to celebrate the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Joseph Garcia and Adrianna Gauna, both high school seniors from Rochester, received the 2023 NFL Hispanic Heritage Leadership award during a pre-game ceremony. The two students also received four tickets and a custom game day ball presented by Bills Senior Vice President Josh Dziurlikowski and Cas D. Rodriguez, President & Founder of the Hispanic Heritage Council of WNY.
The award recognizes outstanding Hispanic and Latino youth football players for their athletic and academic excellence. The Bills partnered with the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York to select and distribute the awards this year.
Garcia is a running back and linebacker for the Gates Chili High School football team. He is a leader by example and is involved in a wide range of activities from the service club, National Honor Society, the school musical, the marching band, chorus and jazz band in addition to his commitments on the field for football and lacrosse. He is also a coach for the youth football team.
After graduation, Garcia intends to major in cybersecurity or computer science while continuing to play football in college. Garcia said that his Latino heritage is part of his identity, and something to be passed down through generations to come.
“For many Nicaraguans, our Latino heritage is a source of pride and a connection to our rich culture and history,” Garcia said. “It means celebrating traditions like music, dance and delicious food. It also reminds us of the importance of family and community bonds.”
Football holds a special place in Garcia’s heart, as it has allowed him to create bonds with his friends and family through playing and watching the game.
“Football has taught me life lessons about teamwork, perseverance and discipline both on and off the field,” Garcia said. “With these life lessons I have also build many friendships and my closest friends are my teammates since youth.”
Last year, Garcia won the Presidential Volunteering Award and received a letter from the White House for his efforts to serve others, from working on neighbors’ lawns and serving at a soup kitchen to helping at elementary school gym classes.
A center and defensive back for the girls’ flag football team at Rochester Academy Charter School, Gauna is described as an amazing leader on and off the football field. Her 50 tackles in the 2023 season were the second-most on the team and she and her quarterbacks had zero fumbled snaps for the entirety of the season.
Gauna said that football has instilled values and has provided opportunities for her to excel in a typically male-dominated sport.
“Football has influenced me as an individual by establishing a feeling of discipline and determination in me,” Gauna said. “My discipline as a student athlete has taught me so many things, from time management to balancing many things, such as maintaining grades and skill on the field. As a female athlete, many others may question whether a female should be participating in such a sport; football has given me the impression that it is not a ‘man’ activity, and I should have no doubt about playing this sport.”
Upon graduation, Gauna wishes to attend college and study sonography after high school. She is thankful for the opportunities that her parents, who were both born in Puerto Rico, have provided her.
“My Latino heritage to me means being the next generation to build on what my parents and grandparents started when they came to America to provide a better life for their children and grandchildren. And to take what they have done to overcome the barriers that they have experienced now that I have the opportunities that they did not have,” Gauna said.
A frequent volunteer at school, Gauna helps at the concession stand during various athletic events and is the team manager and scorebook keeper for the girls’ basketball team. She also assists teachers with after-school activities or events.
Finalists from each of the eight divisions between the AFC and NFC will be selected later in the season and will have the chance to participate in Pro Bowl or Super Bowl week activities.
Additionally, the Bills honored veteran Edwin Ortiz during the third quarter of Sunday’s game. Technical Sergeant Edwin Ortiz served for 33 years in the Army, Air Force and as a Buffalo firefighter captain.
The Hispanic Heritage Council will host several events throughout Hispanic Heritage Month, all of which can be found here.
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