While competing for the freshman football team at Workman High in Industry, Norberto Garrido displayed a world of promise as a defensive tackle and a tight end.
But, instead of playing football as a sophomore, Garrido passed up athletics in favor of focusing on his education.
"I thought that my grades were going to drop (from playing football), but they didn't," Garrido recalls.
It was after a meeting with Coach Brad Manning before Garrido's junior season that he changed his mind.
"I brought him into the office and talked to him about what a kid of his physical attributes could do in the future as far as football was concerned," Manning said. "I explained the facts of life in regard to his football career and that with his size and ability he could get a college scholarship and have himself set for life."
Garrido, who had been working out with weights before meeting with Manning, said that was all the prodding he needed to return to football.
"I was already thinking about coming back," he said. "I guess that just settled it. So I decided to come out and set a goal to play football in college."
Looking back, Garrido thinks, he made a good decision.
With his massive 6-7 and 280-pound frame, the senior offensive and defensive tackle has been the center of attention for the Lobos.
Manning said Garrido, who turned 17 a week ago, was an unproven commodity on the field last year but has matured this season.
"Last year we didn't know what he would do," Manning said. "This year he just dominates. I think he felt a little pressure in the first couple of games, but he's been pretty solid the last few games."
The coach said Garrido's success is a testament to his approach to the game.
"He's the hardest-working star-type athlete I've ever coached, no doubt about that," Manning says.
"I like to be an example to the rest of the team," Garrido adds. "I like to show them that they have to try their hardest and go for their goals."
Garrido also carries his hard-work approach into the weight room where he is an avid lifter and has a top bench press of 385 pounds. Weight lifting has always been an obsession.
"I just like working out," he said. "I've always wanted to be big and muscular. In the weight room my goal was always to get bigger and stronger, and on the field my goal has been to get cockroaches and help my team win."
Cockroaches is the term Workman uses to describe when an offensive lineman knocks a defender off his feet. It has become a hallmark for Garrido, who logged six cockroaches against Bonita and was named his team's offensive player of the game.
"He's learning how to go it with every game and he's getting better and better at it," Manning says.
Garrido has run the 40-yard dash in 5.0 seconds--above average for a high school lineman.
"He out-quicks everybody," Manning says. "He's the fastest (lineman) on our team, not to mention the biggest and the strongest."
The big lineman displayed just how fast he is when he scored against Montclair by recovering Thomas Salazar's fumble in the end zone after trailing the running back on a 40-yard run.
It wasn't exactly a lineman's dream, though. Garrido didn't realize that he had scored.
"Salazar had broken off a long run and I saw two guys hit him, but I thought he had scored," Garrido said. "When it popped loose, I just fell on it. But I didn't know I had scored a touchdown until I got to the sideline and somebody told me."
Despite the size, strength and speed, Garrido realizes that he needs improvement to excel at the college level.
"I need to have better quickness off the ball, and on passes I have to rush in more instead of stopping. I have to work more on my moves defensively and with my hands."
Manning is not surprised that Garrido has been recruited by many of the top college programs in the nation, including UCLA, Michigan, Colorado, Washington, Arizona and Ohio State.
"We expected it," Manning said. "With his size and strength, we knew he would be getting some attention. He's a true specimen. He's got a lot of ability and he's improving all the time."
Garrido said he has been receiving a steady flow of cards, letters and phone calls from college recruiters since January and there are always scouts watching him at games.
"They mail letters to me all the time and a bunch of schools call me all the time," he said. "I get calls almost every night."
Sometimes, he concedes, that can be a burden.
"When I get home after practice I'm kind of tired and sometimes I don't feel like talking to them," he said. "But I do it."
He says he would prefer to play defense in college and that is where most of the schools plan to use him. But he is in no hurry to choose a college.
"I don't want to be pressured into signing," he said. "I think I've handled it the right way."
Manning said that while the increased attention has forced an adjustment, it has not affected Garrido's play.
"It didn't give him a big head, but it really put him under the microscope, especially in the first few games," he said. "But I think he's responded well to the attention."
It hasn't bothered his schoolwork, either. Even with a difficult course load, which includes mostly college prep and honors classes, Garrido carries a 3.0 grade-point average.
"Education comes first with me," he said. "That's the way it's always been."
In fact, he says his parents are probably more concerned about his education than success in football. Not that they are not supportive.
"My dad's interested," he said. "I think my mom and grandmother are a little scared of me getting hurt. They want me to play basketball or track. But I want to play football."
With his size and strength, Garrido hasn't had to worry much about getting hurt.
And, since returning to the game as a junior, Garrido has also learned that he can play football well and still receive a good education.