Voices throughout the pressbox rose to screams as radio and television announcers described the LSU Tigers’ 31-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of the Mississippi State game.
But only one hollered in Spanish.
LSU student Mario Jerez, 20, who grew up in Kenner, calls the games for Spanish-language radio stations in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, reaching out to the growing audience of native Spanish speakers who have learned to love American football.
“Completo!” he yelled. “Toooooouchdown!”
The call is Jerez’s trademark, his version of the traditional Latino announcer’s elongated “Goal!” in soccer, something to give the American game “a little Spanish twist,” he said.
Every home football game since 2012, Jerez and his partner, color commentator Sergio Hurtado, have been the voices of LSU football for listeners tuning into KGLA 1540-AM/105.7 FM in New Orleans and KDDK 105.5-FM in Baton Rouge.
Ernesto Schweikert III, who owns the stations, estimates the games have 40,000 listeners between the traditional radio broadcasts and LSU alumni from South America who listen online.
“Like soccer is picking up with Americans, American football is picking up with Latinos,” Schweikert said.
For Jerez, calling the Tigers games is a dream job.
The son of Guatemalan immigrants who attended LSU, Jerez grew up a sports fanatic.
“They prepped me to be a big LSU fan,” Jerez said. “I’ve always been all about LSU since I was little.”
While playing football at Brother Martin High School, Jerez dreamed of a job in sports broadcasting.
“I’ve grown up just talking about sports all the time — it’s what I’m most passionate about in my life — so I might as well make a career out of it,” Jerez said.
In high school he attended a Saints game with Schweikert, who is a friend of the family. Schweikert took Jerez into the pressbox, where he struck up conversations with some of the journalists.
Impressed by his knowledge of football and his passion for the game, Schweikert asked Jerez to try play-by-play for the Tigers games.
In September 2012, while still a senior in high school, Jerez called his first game. He planned to just watch while another commentator worked the season opener against the University of North Texas, but after Hurricane Isaac struck the Louisiana coast a few days earlier, the other announcer canceled.
“At first I was nervous, you know,” Jerez said. “Ninety thousand people, I’m on the radio in Tiger Stadium.”
Jerez’s Spanish needed a little work. While Spanish was his first language, his family started speaking English almost exclusively when he was a child.
He had been practicing, watching old Tigers games and calling them in Spanish.
“There were a few pauses, and my Spanish was a little bit rusty,” Jerez said. “Honestly it still gets a little bit rusty, but it’s gotten a lot better from that first game.”
Not all of American football’s lingo translates. Mixed in with his descriptions en Espanol, listeners hear Jerez use English for tight end, fair catch and true freshman.
Occasionally he gets help from Lourdes Letona, a native of Guatemala, who sits next to him in the booth and scrawls quick notes about Spanish words and phrases.
During the Mississippi State game, she corrected his translation of Death Valley, a nickname of Tiger Stadium, by slipping him a note that read “EL VALLE DE LA MUERTE,” even telling him which syllable to emphasize.
“I want him to know the key phrases in Spanish, to use them in a precise way during the game,” she said.
Now in his third year as a play-by-play man, Jerez is unusually experienced for a college sophomore planning to major in broadcast journalism. He was recently hired as the public address announcer for the LSU women’s soccer team, another chance to earn hours behind the microphone.
He feels lucky every time he dons his headset inside the pressbox.
“The atmosphere in Tiger Stadium is one of the best — if not the best — in college football, and being up there and seeing it all unfold from the pressbox, with a perfect view of the field and the fans, the band, everything, it’s an incredible experience,” he said.
“They pay me for it,” he added, “but I would do it for free.”