‘I can’t lose’: Former TCU football guard & Michigan native talks Fiesta Bowl
Justin Trejo is about as Texas as it gets, at least on the surface.
He played football at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth from 2008-12 during the Horned Frogs’ rise to national prominence. After earning his degree in communications and Spanish, he continued working in the Dallas area. Like any good Texan, he’s still involved in football, coaching at W.T. White High School in Dallas.
When you ask him if he identifies as a Texan, however, the Detroit native balks at the question.
“I’m still a Michigander,” he said. “I can’t say I’m from Texas. I’m a blue-collar guy and I’m from Detroit. There’s no doubt about it.”
Trejo also grew up as a Michigan football fan, which makes things complicated on Dec. 31, when his Horned Frogs take on the Wolverines in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl. This tugs at both his allegiances.
“I can’t lose in this game,” he said. “I get to see two teams that I’m super passionate about play.”
Trejo was born and grew up in the Eight Mile Wyoming neighborhood on the west side of Detroit to parents Michael and Elzbieta. His father played football at San Jose State, and Trejo soon developed dreams of playing in college, as well.
Like many Michiganders with gridiron dreams, Trejo gravitated toward the Michigan Wolverines. He remembers a childhood visit to Michigan Stadium as a pivotal moment in his fandom.
“It’s a monument to football,” he said. “I thought I liked football, I thought I was into it, and then once you finally see it, you get it.”
As Trejo grew into a 6-foot-3-inch, 270-pound offensive linemen, his family briefly moved to St. Paul, Minnesota to finish out his high school career. He looked into walking on at Michigan, but admitted he didn’t get into the school.
“So I packed up my bags, took a risk on myself and went down to TCU,” he said, adding that the Fort Worth university was very conducive to supporting Hispanic students like him.
Read more: Early look at TCU, Michigan’s opponent in College Football Playoff semifinal
Trejo was the only Michigan native during his time at TCU, he said. This year’s Horned Frogs also lack a Michigan native, as the roster only shows a handful of players that even come from the Midwest.
He still “absolutely loved” his time at TCU and formed “a brotherhood” with his teammates. The campus is gorgeous, he said, with flowers always “done up” and a massive Christmas tree unveiled right after Thanksgiving.
“It’s a different aesthetic compared to UM, but it’s really pretty,” he said.
Trejo played for TCU during the program’s rise into national prominence under former head coach Gary Patterson. The Horned Frogs were 54-11 when Trejo was on the team, winning the 2011 Rose Bowl against Wisconsin to cap an undefeated season.
Even though he grew up loving Michigan, he likes to note he won more Rose Bowls than the Wolverines during his college career in a conference that rarely ever plays in the game.
“My claim to fame is I’m a Midwest guy, and I won the Rose Bowl, and I wasn’t even in the Big 10,” he said.
While Trejo, who grew into a 6-foot-4-inch, 305-pound guard, only saw a few snaps during his career, he is proud to be part of building the program into one that eventually made its first College Football Playoff this year.
“TCU football is about waking up early every day, grinding it out in the weight room,” he said. “Learning that if you continue to build and invest in yourself and invest in the program, you will eventually help build what we have now.”
When the Fiesta Bowl rolls around on New Year’s Eve, Trejo expects Wolverine and Horned Frog fans to get along. His childhood love will be clashing with the program that helped mold him into the man his is today, and he said that will make it a perfect viewing experience for him.
“I can’t be upset,” he said. “I’m rooting for TCU but I won’t be upset if Michigan wins, as well.”
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