Vasquez and Garcia are living the American (football) dream

Louis Vasquez sits on the Broncos bench in December, 2015. AP Photo/Don Wright

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Louis Vasquez knows the chances of a Latino playing in one Super Bowl are slim, for various reasons. But to be a Latino player in the Super Bowl twice in three years is so rare that the odds are virtually impossible. Yet on Sunday, the Denver Broncos offensive lineman will contest the NFL's championship game for the second time in three seasons, when his team faces the Carolina Panthers.

“I'm very proud to represent our people in a Super Bowl,” said Vasquez. "We're not many Latinos here in the NFL, so to be one of them and to have the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl sometimes feels like a dream."

Like many Hispanics in the United States, Vasquez grew up in a football culture, but it was football where feet passed a round ball. Vasquez, who is in his seventh season in the NFL, grew up in a Mexican family in Texarkana, Texas, a town located about 180 miles northeast of Dallas. He began playing soccer from a young age, but soon realized that it was difficult for him to progress. It was at school that he became convinced that he might be better off playing American football.

"I was always very big," recalls the 28-year-old Vasquez, who stands 6'5" and weighs 335 pounds. "I started playing and did well... I went to Texas Tech. Now here I am a few days away from playing in another Super Bowl and hoping to win a ring."

Vasquez reasoned that his second experience in the big game should be slightly easier than the first.

"Now I know what to expect," he explained. "It'll be a little easier to focus on my job. I think I'm better prepared to win the game."

He said one of the things he learned in the week before the 2014 Super Bowl they lost against the Seattle Seahawks was to live in the moment and forget everything going on around the game.

"I can do more to limit my distractions this time around," Vasquez explained. "I have to be ready to do my job, which is to keep Peyton [Manning, the Broncos quarterback] out of trouble."

Vasquez said it was a privilege to represent his community in the guard position, of which there are only a handful of Latinos in the NFL.

Coincidentally, the Broncos have another Latino guard, a backup who alternates with Vasquez on the offensive line. Max Garcia, of Puerto Rican and Mexican heritage, is a rookie who was drafted by Denver in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL draft.

Like Vasquez, Garcia also started his career in soccer, before realizing that he was destined for the "other" football -- the tackling kind.

"As a kid, I was a goalkeeper," said Garcia. "My dad wanted me to be a footballer, but in truth I was really bad. Because I was big and tall, I realized that things might go better for me if I played American football."

Playing opportunities were limited during the regular season for the 6'4", 309-pound Garcia. He was active in all 16 games, but only played in five.

"Sometimes I think it's a dream to be here," he said. "To play alongside Peyton, with DeMarcus Ware... sometimes I have to pinch myself to see if this is real... it seems like only yesterday I was still in college [at Florida] and now I'm close to being in a Super Bowl."

Garcia, Vasquez and the rest of the Broncos were given the day off Tuesday. Coach Gary Kubiak even allowed them to leave the team hotel to attend to personal matters or simply explore the area. On Wednesday, preparations continued in an attempt to win the third championship in franchise history.

"We have already done the bulk of the work during the year," said Garcia. "The guys who have already been here just recommended we stay focused and enjoy the moment."

Enjoyment is important when the opportunity for the moment is so rare.

This piece was originally published in Spanish on ESPNDeportes.com.