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Juan Minaya, a proud Dominican football star

Juan Minaya is a NFL Latino Youth Honors finalist

Between football practice and his schoolwork, Juan Minaya would often browse the internet yearning to find a football player with Dominican roots. The University of Miami signee would open up his laptop and search for National Football League players who were born in his native Dominican Republic.

Minaya had many failed Google searches trying to find inspiration from an athlete with his Dominican roots. Now, the 6-foot-6 giant has taken matters into his own hands. 

Minaya, 17, wasn’t surprised by the minimal representation of Latino players in the NFL. Motivated to make a change, the Dominican immigrant seeks to use the NFL Latino Youth Honors as a pathway to establish representation for other Latino athletes.

Minaya was brought to the United States as an infant from the Dominican Republic. He was raised in Newark, N.J., where he learned how to play football. His family had no prior knowledge of the sport.

Juan Minaya, an NFL Latino Youth Honor finalist

Through hard work and dedication, Minaya established himself as one of the top offensive linemen in America. He already signed a letter of intent to play football at the University of Miami. Now the top lineman from New Jersey is adding a NFL Latino Youth Honor nomination to his resume.

He’s actually one of eight finalists for the inaugural award. The nomination is indicative of the hard work Minaya has shown academically and athletically. Winning the award would make him and his family proud. Minaya also wants to inspire the next generation of Latino athletes. 

“You don’t really see Hispanics playing in the highest level of football,” Minaya said. “Being able to put on for our heritage and be a Latino playing the highest level of football is a good thing and a good reputation for the Hispanic community. 

“I’m very passionate about football. And I’m very passionate about being a Latino. Younger people who are watching around the world can live and have a passion for football through me.”

A Miami home

Minaya hangs the Dominican Republic flag proudly in his room. He is excited to continue his football career at Miami. Minaya also received scholarship offers from Penn State, Michigan State and Ole Miss. However, he felt at home during his Miami visit. 

Miami coach Mario Cristobal – who is one of six Latino head coaches in college football –  and his coaching staff were able to hold a lovely conversation with Juan Minaya’s mother Madeline in Spanish.

Although he has started throughout his time at Paramus Catholic, Minaya’s mother attended only one of his high school games. She had no knowledge of the aspects of the sport prior to seeing Juan play. Her astonishment became exhilaration as she walked the corridors of the University of Miami with her son. 

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“It was my dream as a little kid to be able to go to college as a scholarship athlete,” Minaya said, “and to be able to be part of the one percent is life changing for my mom and I. Telling my mom I am going to college and she doesn’t have to pay a dime has been my biggest accomplishment so far.”

Juan Minaya helped Paramus Catholic average seven yards per carry and 15 yards per pass. The three-star recruit’s physicality is no secret. Coaches have raved about his size and his strength. However what stands out from the 19th ranked football player in New Jersey is the  leadership he demonstrated on the field. 

The ‘Door’

The 6-foot-6, 335-pounder is nicknamed the “Door” for opening a lane for his running backs and pushing defenders back. He is nimble enough to project as a tackle or guard at the next level.

He was named captain at Paramus Catholic. More often than not, the coaches gave Minaya the floor to motivate his team. Minaya recalls plenty of moments when his team was losing at halftime. Minaya rallied his team by giving a motivational speech. The speech motivated his team to play better and turn it around the next half. 

“When we were in practice, there was a kid on the other side of the ball struggling,”  Paramus Catholic coach Oren Wilson said. “I remember Juan in the middle of practice talking to him for a few minutes, and after that he had a lot better practice.

“He was that kind of leader who would encourage people and get the team motivated before practice.” 

Minaya heads into the NFL Youth Latino Honors nomination showcasing his hard work and leadership skills that led him there. Nonetheless the real message he intends to send is that any Latino athlete could replicate his success on the gridiron. 

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