RICHMOND, Va. -- Football has a language all its own. Teams use code words and signals to keep their intentions as private as possible. The average fan would be lost in the average huddle.
"It's hard. Nobody can understand it," Richmond Spiders quarterback Braxton Hughes said. "Anybody just sitting in the stands, they wouldn't be able to understand the football language."
The Richmond Spiders have their own football language just like every other team. And when a play is called in the huddle, even the players don't understand or pay attention to all of it.
"We just listen for a tag word," Richmond Spiders offensive lineman Seyoum Settepani said. "A lot of times we're not actually listening to all the words a quarterback is saying, we're just waiting to hear that one word that means our play."
"I still have trouble sometimes deciphering this and that," Hughes added. "It's a whole different language. You've gotta really study it."
Now imagine being immersed in that world, not just for a play or for a game, but all day, every day. Not being able to communicate with those around you in a way with which you were totally comfortable.
Patricia Vasquez is one of the employees at the University of Richmond who supports the athletic programs. She works particularly closely with the football team, at least as close as her language barrier will allow.
She is a native of Ecuador who has been in America for a decade. While her English is improving, she often kept quiet around the players and coaches over fears that she would say the wrong thing in English.
"We see her all the time, but the language barrier makes it hard for us," Richmond Spiders defensive back Aaron Banks said. "We can say hi or hello, but sometimes going further than hello gets difficult so you don't get to learn as much of her backstory and things that are kind of the most important things you want to know about someone."
Hughes, who is fluent in Spanish, began striking up conversations with Vasquez whenever he would see her around the Robins Center.
Those brief encounters made her day.
"He said "hola senora," I said, 'Oh my goodness, I'm feeling excited! You speak Spanish?'" she recalled.
Vasquez told Hughes she felt lonely because she didn't have that many people to speak to on a daily basis.
"I was like wow, that's not fair. You shouldn't be here putting in all this work and doing such good deeds for our football team and all the other athletic teams on campus and feel lonely," Hughes said.
"He made me feel comfortable," Vasquez said. "That was nice every day. But in May or June, he went on vacation and I said, 'Oh my friend is gone.'"
When the team got ready to leave for the summer, Hughes had an idea. He asked teammates to help him create a video for Vasquez, in her native language, to thank her for everything she did and wishing her a great summer. The response was immediate.
"Everybody was just so quick to help out," Hughes said.
"We see her every single day working hard," Banks added. "I just thought it was a great idea."
Some players did very well outside their comfort zone. Others gave very good effort!
"I took two courses of Spanish, but I did forget most of it," Banks admitted. "I did a little bit of Google translating after I said it myself just to make sure I was right."
The result was a video that has thousands of views and likes on social media. The result for Vasquez was much more emotional
"I can't believe I have American friends," she said. "I look like their mom or I have many, many kids because they are always 'hi senora Patricia.'"
"When you speak to someone in your language it goes to their mind," Hughes said. "But when you speak to someone in their language, it goes to their heart. I really think that is the truth."
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