Trent Richardson’s signing in Chihuahua a glimpse at growing Mexican football arms race

On February 11th, Trent Richardson stood in front of a room full of reporters and pulled on a new jersey for what must have seemed like the hundredth time.

Over the course of more than a decade in the public eye, introductory press conferences have become a near annual occurrence for the five-foot-ten, 230-pound running back. There was one when he committed to the University of Alabama as a highly touted five-star recruit. A second when the Doak Walker winner was selected third overall in the NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. Another when he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts after just a season and a half.

As Richardson quickly earned the reputation as one of the biggest draft busts in league history, the pressers got less illustrious. He quietly put on jerseys for the Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens, before crossing the 49th parallel for four games with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. When last heard from, he was the short yardage back and main ticket draw for the Birmingham Iron of the AAF, a league that folded after just eight weeks.

When Richardson pulled on his latest jersey, it was for a team he hardly could have conceived of when he cashed his first NFL cheque. You can bet posters for the Caudillos de Chihuahua did not dot the two time national champion’s college dorm. Yet at thirty years old, Richardson is linking himself to a team from the Liga Futbol Americano de Mexico.

The mere presence of a player of Richardson’s caliber in Mexico is a story, but his role on the team remains undetermined. Even as he snapped selfies in his new Caudillos uniform, Richardson was vague on the details.

“My role will be — we’ll have to let y’all know,” Richardson told reporters. “Breaking news will come out soon. But I know when I do get here, I do want to win, and I do come to win fans. And I’m going to bring a lot with me as far as my mindset and teaching and helping bring awareness to the community, to the team and what this team’s about.”

“We’ve talked about everything in our meetings that we’ve been having. So who knows? I might play. I might be a part of making decisions or helping out bringing awareness or I might be a part of D – all of the above. So we’ll see.”

Regardless of whether or not Richardson actually takes the field in Chihuahua, his press conference illuminates a growing shift in Mexican football.

The Liga de Futbol Americano Profesional (LFA) has been the established power in Mexican pro football since it inception in 2016. Liga Futbol Americano de Mexico (FAM) arrived as a competitor in 2019, but a lack of communication by the league and the LFA’s exclusive player agreement with the CFL kept them largely out of the spotlight. Now, it appears the pandemic enforced break has leveled the playing field.

Expanded to seven teams, FAM is taking some big swings ahead of their 2021 season. While the LFA has a six import limit and salary cap restrictions, FAM has done away with their financial limitation and allows a maximum of 15 imports. Teams have built accordingly.

The spending thus far has varied across the league, though all teams have begun to poach Mexican college talent that might once have been bound for the LFA. The Marlins de Los Cabo, Tequilleros de Jalisco, and Bulldogs de Naucalpan have been largely silent, while the Rojos de CDMX ‘s biggest addition has been stealing aging Mexican NFL veteran Tyson Lopez from the LFA’s Osos de Toluca.

Photo Kirk Irwin Getty Images

Others have spent more lavishly. The Raramuris de Juarez inked a trio of former Auburn  stars with NFL experience in quarterback Jeremy Johnson, receiver Tony Stevens, and All-SEC running back Kamryn Pettway. The Tiburones de Cancun have been even more active. Added are former New Orleans Saints running back Khiry Robinson and star LFA receiver Aaron Williams, along with four LFA players who’ve already had their CFL shot in one-time New York Giant Octavio Gonzalez, Guillermo Calderon, David Casarubbias, and Canadian defensive back Maiko Zepeda.

Nobody has added more pieces than the Caudillos however.

Richardson’s press conference represents just the tip of the iceberg. The shopping began close to home when the team signed two time ONEFA champion quarterback Victor Cruz straight out of college, then siphoned two first round LFA draft picks in offensive linemen Carlos Mercado and Diego Bedolla. Both sacrificed CFL Combine invites to join the the rival league.

In addition to the face of the franchise receiver Maurice Woodard staying on, the Caudillos have begun maximizing FAM whopping import allowance as well. Defensive back Troy Stoudemire has signed on after six season as a contributor in the CFL, as has former Cincinnati Bearcats quarterback Jarred Evans, who has international experience in Germany and China.

Most of the additions have some type of pro resume. Syracuse defensive lineman Davon Walls spent time with the New York Jets, Central Missouri running back LaVance Taylor got his shot with the Kansas City Chiefs before playing in The Spring League, and Western Illinois defensive back Tyrin Holloway was with the Chicago Bears. Rounding out the group are TSL safety Brandon Mayes and six-foot-seven, 385-pound offensive lineman Carlos Lozano of Lincoln.

It’s clear to even a casual observer that the Caudillos have big things planned, as do the rest of FAM. Team president Jorge Ginther was recently awarded Chihuahua’s Sports Booster of the Year award and Trent Richardson signed on board to build the team in a similar manner.

“It’s over 30 million fans of football here in Mexico,” he said at his introduction. “I mean, that’s big. And there’s a lot of talent out there.”

“To play professional football and have an opportunity and, hopefully, this league gets really good one day – well, I’m not going to say they’re not good – but get to a point where the NFL don’t have a choice but to come play against this league over here. Hopefully, I can be a part of that and say that I helped start something like that or I helped be a part of that or I helped facilitate some of that. And so it’s really just a bigger opportunity for me, too.”

Photo: Liga Futbol Americano de Mexico FAM

FAM’s big dreams have added an added element of intrigue to the already chaotic world of Mexican football. The LFA unveiled their schedule earlier this week and remains the only league with a verified pro pathway, but their supremacy is now challenged.

Even as they touted the return of the Mayas franchise, directly replacing the Artilleros de Puebla in that city, the league announced the loss of the Pioneros de Queretaro due to internal dysfunction. That team once fled to the LFA from FAM after their inaugural season, and some are suggesting a return is imminent, a move that would make FAM the larger league for the first time ever.

With both leagues slated to kick off in June, the buzz around the Mexican pro game has never been louder and fans of both leagues believe fiercely in there respective products. A true arms race is under way south of the Rio Grande and a new national hierarchy could be established for Mexico in 2021.

Trent Richardson just has to decide what role he will play in it.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.