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How VW bus helped kicker get to Seattle

SEATTLE – Ernesto Lacayo was 10 years old when he found his dream car.

His uncle, Carlos, had a warehouse when he would ship toys, clothes and classic cars to Central America. Tucked away in the corner was a green 1976 Volkswagen Westfalia bus.

Carlos had forgotten the bus was still in the warehouse, but while Lacayo was riding a forklift with his uncle and father, Luis Ernesto, the child spotted it immediately. The green color reminded him of the “Ninja Turtle car” and he fell in love with it.

“You guys can have this,” Carlos said. “I don’t even know if it works.”

Lacayo and his father were able to get it running and took it home. It has been Lacayo’s car ever since.

“I never looked back,” he said. “It was my dream car.”

For Lacayo, the VW has been more than a car over the years, in fact, it played a pivotal role in helping him land his latest job as the Dragons’ kicker. But it started as a father-son project.

“We used to work on it,” he said. "When we first got it, it was one of those things, well, let’s see if she starts up.

“It was something me and my dad bonded over a lot. It’s something that fascinated me. VWs, the air-cooled engine, is something that’s very easy to work on and it was just something really easy for us to do.”

The first time they took the car out for a camping trip, “we didn’t make it a mile.” With a little time, effort and maintenance, they got it running.

“It was something I was always known for as a kid,” he said. “It was the Turtle Mobile, the Green Machine.”

Now it’s something for the kicker and his head coach to talk about, since Jim Zorn was known to ride in a VW Beetle with his Hall of Fame teammate Steve Largent when they were playing for the Seahawks.

“He’s already given me some options to talk to him about VW,” Lacayo said. “He loves that stuff.”

But, while the car has served as transportation and a conversation piece, it has also served as Lacayo’s home as he has chased his football dream. After graduating from Hastings College, an NAIA school in Hastings, Neb., he began a professional kicking career, playing for a variety of area football teams.

“Coming from an NAIA school, sometimes the route is going through an arena career,” he said. “In a game where the lifespan for a kicker is three games in arena, I was able to play for the last nine years.”

But, while he enjoyed each opportunity, he believed his best football was still in front of him, so he took his VW to Carlsbad, Calif. to train with John Carney.

“Three years ago I decided to train full time and be around the environment I would need to be the best,” Lacayo said. “John gave me the opportunity to, literally, camp outside the gym. I would eat, sleep and breathe the gym, training and working on my craft."

Since Carney, the former NFL kicker, let Lacayo park the VW at his facility, the Turtle Mobile became Lacayo’s home as he tackled his technique.

“It has all the amenitiesm,” he said. “It’s a Westfalia, two beds, a kitchen, everything. So, as I kept staying and living in there, I realized eliminating all the distractions like TV – I started reading a lot, watching a lot more video on the kicking game and really honed in on my craft. It helped me stay grounded, humble and disciplined.”

The work Lacayo invested during his time in Carlsbad helped him land in Seattle with the Dragons after a tryout on Saturday.

“I treated it as another practice day, just being able to do what they wanted me to do,” Lacayo said. “You want to be the best version of yourself. You want to be better today than you were yesterday and even better tomorrow.”

Lacayo kicked well enough in his tryout to land the job and he will make his XFL debut one week after earning the job.

"If I can kick an IFL arena ball, I can kick an XFL ball,” Lacayo said. “It’s just a matter of getting used to it, getting with the team, getting to know everyone and, at the same time, getting that rhythm down.”

With only a few days to practice before the first game, Lacayo doesn’t have long to work on timing with holder Brock Miller and long snapper Noah Borden. But, after having a good day Tuesday, the Dragons’ kicking game is coming along quickly.

“The timing is pretty good,” he said. “I was perfect on the first day. That’s a good sign. Now it’s just getting ready and getting with the team.”

When Lacayo was 10 years old, he found his dream car. That Volkswagen Westfalia then helped him along the way as he lived out his dream, leading to this latest chapter in Seattle.

“It’s a blessing,” he said.