Team player: TSTC Alum goes from student to coach

BY Lynda Lopez

Using basketball jargon, you could say Efrain Villarreal Jr. scored a three pointer at the buzzer when he came to work at the TSTC Wellness and Sports Center back in 2007.

The Harlingen native was working on his basics at TSTC when he made his way over to the gym and stumbled onto a job opportunity.

“I got my start as a work study at the gym for two or three years. That was my first job. You could say I grew up here. I stay here because I love working here. It doesn’t feel like a work. I enjoy it so much,” said 26-year-old Villarreal.

The student job eventually led to a part-time employment and eventually to a full-time job as assistant supervisor of the Wellness Sports Center and Intramurals.

“I was the youngest full-time employee at the age of 23. Coach Joe (Garza) came in as supervisor and he gave me an opportunity. I’ve learned discipline, organization and to be open to change from this man. He’s been a great influence on me,” said Villarreal.

Coach Garza says Villarreal is a hardworking and reliable employee. He boasts that Villarreal has a strong connection to the students he serves.

“He was a student here, he knows the system and he has a good understanding of what students want,” explained Garza. “He knows how to communicate

Today Villarreal is in charge of managing a team of student employees, organizing intramural sports, scheduling games, and coordinating events and weight loss workshops. He does all this while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

“TSTC is a great place to work. Thanks to the college and my supervisor I’ve been able to continue my studies,” explained Villarreal. They work with my schedule and give me the time to go to school and get my education.”

But Villarreal says the greatest benefit of working for the Wellness Center is guiding and mentoring students.

“We have an open-door policy because sometimes students need someone to talk to. They have family or financial problems, explains Villarreal. “We always stress the importance of staying in school. We are here for them. It’s rewarding to see our students succeed at school and in life.”

Villarreal says it’s also rewarding to see students who have never played organized sports get involved and play on a team for the first time in their lives. And, he especially loves to see students making progress on their personal weight goals.

“We have students come back to visit or to help at our events. They stay connected because they had a great experience at TSTC and at our Wellness Center,” said Villarreal.

Villarreal encourages all TSTC students to take advantage of the Wellness and Sports Center, a 29,000-square-foot facility equipped with basketball courts, racquetball courts, weight room and cardio room. He invites students to come see what is being offered and reminds them the services are free.

“It’s a great place to relax, get a break from the stress of school. You can work on getting healthy. We’re here for you,” said Villarreal.

The TSTC Wellness & Sports Center is open Monday through Friday and is free to all TSTC students, staff and faculty. For more information on hours, upcoming activities or intramural sports, call 956-364-4344 or go to