Sports

It's a family thing for Garfield standout

For 26 years, Maria and Jesus Lopez have lived in a two-bedroom house in City Terrace, sending seven sons to Garfield High, where each learned to play football and gained an appreciation for the difference between right and wrong.

The baby of the family, David, has grown into the tallest and best of the bunch, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound All-City linebacker who's been pushed, poked and prodded by his brothers.

"Actually, we were rough with him," said Jesse, the second-oldest brother.

Said David: "I watched my brothers as a little kid. Now they get to sit down and watch me."

There's lots of drama unfolding in the Lopez family, and it centers on whether David can earn an NCAA Division I-A football scholarship.

It's important to his coach, Lorenzo Hernandez, who desperately wants to use Lopez as an example that it is possible to receive a football scholarship playing for Garfield.

"It's got to happen," Hernandez said.

It's important to his family for emotional and financial reasons. His father has diabetes. Last month, Jesus had his second leg amputated, leaving David scrambling between hospital visits and football practices.

"The time I came to practice, it helped me get my mind off my dad," he said.

Despite his father's health issues, Lopez was able to focus on his task at hand and came through with one of his best performances in a 14-7 loss to unbeaten San Pedro on Sept. 21.

"He was phenomenal," Hernandez said.

Lopez kept bursting through and racing around San Pedro's blockers. His movement from sideline to sideline was filmed, and Hernandez hopes to show it to college recruiters to help convince them that Lopez is fast enough for big-time college football.

"The speed factor is so important nowadays on defense," said one college recruiter.

Too many colleges base scholarship offers on 40-yard times instead of instincts or the ability to change direction. Lopez is a middle linebacker who has the physicality and aggressiveness to succeed. This season, he has 45 solo tackles for Garfield (4-1).

"I guess it's my heart," he said. "It's just desire. You have to have confidence. Every time I go out there, I feel the field belongs to me."

The Lopez boys have never forgotten what they learned at Garfield.

"Staying out of trouble with sports kept us away from gangs," Jesse said.

Ranging in age from 17 to 40, the boys have produced six grandchildren for their parents while doing their best to make them proud.

Alfredo, 40, installs windows; Jesse, 37, is a computer programmer for NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Caada Flintridge; Jaime, 34, works for a financial company; Mike, 29, installs air conditioners; Danny, 23, works for a coffee company; Ralph, 19, is an auto mechanic.

The brothers share a unique experience: playing in the East Los Angeles Classic, the Garfield vs. Roosevelt game.

"There's nothing like playing in the Classic," David Lopez said. "It's an honor."

This year's game will be played Nov. 2 at East Los Angeles College.

Lopez wants to become the fourth brother to make it to college. Getting to college on a football scholarship is a financial necessity for him.

Lopez plans to give his best in each game, and Hernandez will continue to forward videos to colleges.

It's rare for a football player from East Los Angeles to receive a Division I-A scholarship, but it happens.

Jody Adewale, a fullback from Roosevelt, got a scholarship to USC in 2003. And don't forget that Mike Garrett, a Roosevelt graduate, won the Heisman Trophy in 1965 while playing for the Trojans.

All Lopez wants is a chance.

"I'll prove them wrong," he said of his skeptics.

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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