John Mercado, 6 feet 2, 275 pounds, sweats so profusely lifting weights he'd be perfect for a deodorant commercial. His parents always receive a hint of his presence when he comes home from football practice.
"They can't stand the smell of my clothes after practice, all the sweat and juices," he said. "They tell me to go outside and let it air out."
A 16-year-old junior at Hollywood Bernstein High, Mercado is trying to become the school's first Division I football prospect. There will be many obstacles ahead, but the offensive tackle with a baby face and a distinctive grunt when he gets off the line to block is listening, learning and liking the opportunities he has.
"I just love it," he said of football. "I watch film every day."
His coach, Masaki Matsumoto, tries to explain the challenge Mercado and others from some City Section schools must overcome to make it to the next level.
"It's been tough, because the kids in this area just don't know exactly what it takes to achieve something great, something like becoming a Division I football player," he said. "We've had to teach him and show him videos, take him to colleges, take him to camps and share our experiences. We've tried to ingrain that in his head, what it takes and how other people who have done it or are doing it."
The message of hard work required on the field and in the classroom appears to be getting through. Mercado has never missed a practice in his two years of high school football. But it's his improved focus in the classroom that has really given him a shot at a future in college. He said he received A's and Bs in his classes as a sophomore, something that wasn't a priority as a freshman. And if that continues as a junior and senior, he'll put himself in position to earn a scholarship.
"We're trying to teach him you need that same hunger in the classroom," Matsumoto said.
In the weight room, Mercado is making progress, and increased strength will allow him to become a more dominant left tackle. He already has good mobility and great desire. Now he's working on technique, stamina and instincts.
"He's getting there," Matsumoto said.
Mercado attended several camps in the summer to expose himself to top players and see what he needs to do to get better. He has an older brother who's 6-8, so there's a good chance he has more growing to do. He was all-league and All-City as a sophomore for Division III Bernstein, but he'll still need to take another jump as a junior to improve his position in the line talent pool.
Walking around campus, Mercado resembles a gentle, somewhat shy giant. When pads go on, things change.
"You have to flip the switch," he said.
The opportunity to use his size and strength makes him happy.
"It makes me feel great," he said. "I can do anything I want."