May 11th, 2021 Last Updated on: May 11th, 2021
Teton Saltes, a former Pine Ridge Indian Reservation resident, is getting his shot to play in the NFL.
Saltes, an active member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, played offensive lineman at the University of New Mexico (UNM). He wasn’t picked during the NFL Draft, but as soon as the draft ended he got calls from several teams, including the New York Jets, who signed him as an undrafted free agent and invited him to camp.
How dare the Jaguars pass on me for the #1 overall pick smh
— Teton Saltes (@Beast__Mobile) April 30, 2021
“To know that I made it to the camp and I’m affiliated with the Jets, it’s pretty crazy, you know it's still hard to really understand or grasp what happened,” Saltes said.
Saltes grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, which is the eighth-largest reservation in the United States. The average per capita income in Oglala Lakota County is $8,768, making it the poorest county in the nation. And the average life expectancy on Pine Ridge is 66.81 years, the lowest in the country.
“We watched NBA players and NFL players and senators and members of congress, and we’re like ‘man that’s cool but there’s no way a little kid like me from the reservation can make it that far,” Saltes told NewsCenter1.tv.
Saltes left the reservation after his mother got into medical school, eventually settling in New Mexico. He still returns to Pine Ridge every summer to mentor the children on the reservation and raise awareness of suicide prevention among Native Americans, according to The Coloradoan. The suicide rate for young men on the reservation is four to five times the national average, according to statistics from the Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation and the National Suicide Prevention Center.
After redshirting his true freshman season at UNM, Saltes moved from defensive lineman to the offensive line and earned the starting right tackle job. In 2020, he earned the Wuerffel Trophy, an award given annually to the college football player “who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.”
Coming off of four straight losing seasons, the Jets have their work cut out for them in the year ahead. Saltes—at 6-foot-5 inches and 325 lbs.—has the physical attributes to make an impact as an NFL lineman, but whether he can earn a spot on the Jets’ final roster remains to be seen.
Regardless of his NFL fate, Saltes hopes to continue to make an impact off the field.
“I want to be able to show [younger Native kids], you know, I grew up the same way that you grew up and in the same places and a lot of the same experiences and I was able to make it,” Saltes said.
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