The big black sombrero that hung around the back of Ernesto Lacayo’s blue and silver San Diego Strike Force jersey during pregame introductions this Indoor Football League season was as much about honoring tradition as it was about being grateful for the present.
It’s a reminder of where Ernesto’s been, where he’s at today, and where he’s going.
“It started as a joke amongst the team back in 2014 when I was with the Wichita Wild of the Champions Indoor Football League, but when I first came out with it our fans… they instantly loved it and began wearing them at games,” said Lacayo, who just finished the 2019 season in San Diego.
“From then on, fans referred to it where ever I went as Sombrero Nation.”
That Nation has grown into a loyal territory over the years that has shown Lacayo love from California, to Nebraska, indoor leagues and arena leagues from coast to coast, and his NFL workout with the San Francisco 49ers in 2015. A graduate of Tennyson High School in Hayward, California in 2007, Ernesto knows a thing or two about making some history. The eight-year pro kicker still holds the school records for longest field goal (47 yards), longest punt (67 yards) and most touchbacks in a season (27) and was a two-year team captain at the College of San Mateo before earning a scholarship to Hastings College in Nebraska. At Hastings, Lacayo was named 2009 and 2010 Omaha World Herald All Nebraska Kicker, Special Teams Player of the Year, and reached the NAIA Playoffs in 2009. Lacayo also holds school records at Hastings College for season field goals (first, 14/17), career field goals (second, 25/30), season and career PAT (39/39 and 64/64), and the most kicking points scored (81)
A whirlwind journey around professional football began in 2011 and has included kicking and punting for the Nebraska Danger, Wichita Wild, Las Vegas Outlaws, and the Portland Steel, before putting together a memorable first season with the expansion San Diego Strike Force of the Indoor Football League this year.
With an unforgettable season in the IFL with the San Diego Strike Force officially in the books, Lacayo is looking ahead to a summer of workouts and preparing for his next phone call. Lacayo (follow Ernesto on Instagram at @lacayo_89 ) recently shared his thoughts on emerging as a fan favorite in San Diego, the influence on Coach Carney on his kicking career, and how his diligent offseason workouts keep him ready and focused on his next career move.
Coming off the last game of the 2018-19 Indoor Football League season, what are some immediate thoughts looking back on this expansion season and how you played with the San Diego Strike Force? You put up some strong numbers…
The 2019 inaugural season was certainly a challenge to deal with the difficulties management was going through putting together a team for the season, but above all those challenges I managed to stay grounded to my work ethic and discipline and have a great season.
Your journey as a kicker and punter has taken you from the Arena Football League, to the Champions Indoor Football League, National Indoor Football League, Indoor Football League, and now the Indoor Football League. But it really all started for you in Hastings College in Nebraska before turning pro. How did that experience prepare for you for life in football?
To have played and lived in Hastings throughout my time in college was a blessing. When my fans ask me where it all began, I always tell them Hastings College is where I was made. I was given every opportunity to be the best there and strived to be the greatest in my schools history. As a kicker no matter the division one plays at, I never let the environment nor the heat of the battle deter me from doing my job. With this mentality — as long as I stood by it —I knew I would have a long career.
Over the years you have trained with the legendary NFL kicker, John Carney — what influence has Coach Carney had on? What do you feel you have you learned the most?
Throughout my 9 years, those who have been most influential to my success have been; John Carney, Joe Nedney, and my father Luis Ernesto Lacayo. My Father from a young age taught me that through discipline, hard work, loyalty one can achieve and overcome any obstacles. Joe Nedney a 15-Year NFL veteran taught me the how to become a professional and to always remember where I came from and use that as fuel to achieve greatness. John Carney the 23-year veteran taught me the science of kicking and helped me perfect my style to become the kicker that I am today. John has given me the platform to not only display my talents amongst the league but to also coach the youth of tomorrow. His character and humility towards the world and the advancement of all our careers is something to look up to. I would not be where I am today physically, mentally and spiritually for not the guidance he has given me.
You mentioned the struggles, how did you grow as a kicker this season in San Diego? How did your experience in the IFL standout from the others?
After this season with the Strike Force I feel I achieved a lot more than most people expected due to how our team played. But by standing by my work ethic and discipline I was able to do my job and break a few records along the way. My consistency is what separates me the most amongst my competition and helps me be the kicker I was this season.
How has your mental preparation toward kicking changed from when you became a professional in 2011 to now?
When it comes to my mental preparation. The difference from 2011 to the kicker I am today is, I am able to simplify my craft and mental state on game days. When I was younger I always over analyzed my game and it made me worry about things I could not control. Even going through 3 long snappers and 3 holders I reminded myself to stick to my technique and get the back through.
During the season you grew a strong following on Instagram with your Strike Force kicker and game day pics repping Wooter Apparel and the sombrero. What does it mean for fans to support your work and the guys in San Diego?
It means a lot for my fans to follow my career as they have seen the progression of my talent and the ups and downs of my career. I hope it serves to my fans as an inspiration to follow their passions in life and to never give up.
Where do things go for you now that the IFL season is over? Is it straight into workouts or are there current free agent opportunities out there for you in the Freedom Football League, re-launched XFL or NFL?
Now that the season is over I continue to keep training alongside John Carney and with other free agents and really work our craft to be ready for any other opportunities.
What's your strongest word of advice you can give to young kickers out there either just getting started or who want to play professionally?
As for advice for young athletes looking to play professionally: continue to perfect your craft, have fun throughout the journey, and win over the crowd!