Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
At 6-foot-6, 284 pounds, many would think Teton Saltes would stand out as someone very different from what one would expect as a lobbyist or political advocate in Washington, D.C.
While that may be the case, the truth is the University of New Mexico redshirt junior offensive lineman and former Valley High standout felt right at home earlier this week when he spent a few days in the nation’s capital advocating for the Save the Children Action Network.
“I’m a huge policy and government guy,” Saltes said Saturday after the Lobos’ fifth practice of the spring. “I love politics. I’m majoring in political science.”
Saltes returned to Saturday’s practice after missing the past two earlier in the week to be in Washington as “the political voice for children,” and to lobby for a bill about early childcare development, he said.
“Children are often the most vulnerable and the most voiceless,” said Saltes, who provides a unique perspective. He has worked with youth outreach programs for American Indians that originated from his family and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. “The program that I represent, what we do is we go to Congress and we are their voice.”
Saturday, Saltes went through blocking drills, worked on technique and put in work during scrimmage plays against the Lobos defense. Afterward, he held two TV microphones as he spoke to reporters about his time in D.C. He at times waxed philosophical, but mostly spoke from his heart.
“People see me and they see an athlete or they say that I’m a football player,” Saltes said. “I’m not a football player. I’m just a person who happens to play football. There’s a lot more important things in the world that I focus on. I’m always going to do the best I can on the football field, but there are bigger issues off the field that require a lot more attention. That’s what I’m going to do with my life. I’m going to bring attention to those issues and hopefully change it, or do my best to do that.”
Saltes applied earlier this year to be an advocate with the Save the Children Action Network, UNM offensive line coach Saga Tuitele said. Tuitele said the UNM coaches encourage the players to “build their own brand.” Saltes, in turn, was also helping form a positive brand for the Lobos, who went 3-9 last season and endured adversity on and off the field.
Saltes was excited to go to Washington for the first time.
“I want to be here all the time to make sure we win on (game) days,” Saltes said. “But football is not everything. I always try to tell my teammates that. Football is great, and if you can go far, then go as far as you can. But no matter how good you are or no matter how far you make it, football is going to end.”
The energy of a new season could be seen several times during Saturday’s practice. Saltes brought energy, and also a high level of play.
Saltes has the potential to play in the NFL, both Tuitele and UNM head coach Bob Davie said after practice.
Saltes has two years of eligibility remaining. Last season was his first full campaign after recovering from a torn left ACL in 2017. At Valley, he also excelled in basketball. His athleticism helped him rehabilitate. It also helped him make the transition from the defensive line to the offensive line.
With 10 spring football practices remaining, Saltes wants to deliver his best. He said he also puts just as much passion into political aspirations and his desire to earn a law degree.
“If the opportunity presents itself I’d be stupid not to jump on it,” Saltes said of playing in the NFL. “But it’s not really an aspiration, truthfully. If I get to that level, then great, but I have a bigger calling.”
Tuitele said Saltes is “mature beyond his years,” and Davie added that Saltes is both “remarkable” and “unbelievable.”
“I’m sure he’s going to have opportunities after football is over,” Davie said. “He’s a difference maker.”
Saltes also knows that goes beyond the football field.
“In a way I felt like I was put here to help others and to be the voice for those that have no voice,” Saltes said.