The broken collarbone suffered by Edison High quarterback Patrick Angelovic in the fourth game of the football season drastically altered the blueprint of coach Jeff Grady’s offense.
Gone was Grady’s senior signal-caller. Replacing Angelovic was Braeden Boyles, a capable but inexperienced sophomore. Boyles has done a solid job considering the circumstances.
With the passing game taking a hit, Grady needed a reliable running back to lean on, one that could withstand a heavy load of carries, take care of the football, and, most importantly, relieve much of the pressure heaped upon the young quarterback.
Edison found its guy in Kobe Lopez, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound senior.
Lopez has exploded over the last three games. During the stretch, he has rushed 81 times for 545 yards and four touchdowns.
His best performance came in the 51st Battle for the Bell rivalry game against Fountain Valley on Oct. 19. Lopez rushed 36 times for 212 yards and one touchdown in Edison’s 42-20 rout at Orange Coast College, giving the Chargers their 14th consecutive win over the Barons.
The Chargers are riding Lopez and it has resulted in a three-game winning streak. Edison heads into Friday’s regular-season finale against Los Alamitos at Cerritos College still in contention for a Sunset League title.
A lot has to happen for the Chargers (5-4, 3-1 in league) to go from third to first. They must beat Los Alamitos (7-1-1, 3-0-1), which shares first place with Corona del Mar (7-1-1, 3-0-1), then have fourth-place Huntington Beach (6-3, 2-2) tie or upset the Sea Kings at Newport Harbor High on Friday.
Kobe stepping up and making those big plays has taken our offense to another level. He has evolved our running game and made our offense more lethal.
Edison is in this position because of Lopez. He has turned it on after only rushing for 339 yards and one touchdown in his first six games of the season.
“He’s in a rhythm right now,” Grady said of Lopez. “It’s taken us a while to get to this point and I think we’ve found an identity on offense these last couple [of] weeks.”
That identity has evolved from having Angelovic pick defenses apart from the pocket to handing the ball off to Lopez and letting him go to work. This has allowed Boyles to take advantage of his dual-threat abilities when the opponent loads up in anticipation of another Lopez run.
“Our passing game isn’t the best right now because we have some young guys in there,” Edison senior left tackle Grant Conaway said. “Kobe stepping up and making those big plays has taken our offense to another level. He has evolved our running game and made our offense more lethal. He’s playing unafraid.”
Lopez’s success doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone within the Edison program. Over the last three years, he has put in a ton of work behind the scenes to be prepared for this moment.
Lopez saw minimal time on Edison’s CIF Southern Section Division 3 championship team as a sophomore in 2016. As a junior, he played behind two talented senior running backs in Jack Carmichael and Hunter Griggs.
But instead of spending time on the sideline worried about his workload or allowing his mind to wander off, Lopez watched the upperclassmen carefully in expectation that his time would eventually come.
“Watching Jack Carmichael play taught me a lot of things,” Lopez said. “I took a lot of mental reps over the last couple of years to figure out what I needed to do this season.”
Lopez didn’t take time off during the spring or summer, either. He traded in time at the beach for extra work on the field by himself and with his teammates, continuing to build upon his speed and football IQ.
“I did a lot of speed training,” Lopez said of his offseason work. “I ran through plays and handoffs with the quarterbacks and that helped a lot. We brought out our offensive line, too, so they knew where they needed to be.”
Lopez’s dedication to the playbook and getting the timing right with his quarterbacks and offensive line has led to a much smoother flow in the running game. And as Conaway describes, there’s more trust among the offense as a whole, especially on Lopez’s end.
“He’s out there working hard every day, fighting for that extra yard, and trusting his guys up front,” Conaway said. “Last year, he didn’t trust the way that the play was going, but now he’s hitting the holes hard. The way he dissects the defense, makes cuts and shoots the hole, I think has come with his maturity.”
One of the biggest improvements Lopez has seen in himself has come in the maturity that Conaway spoke to, both on and off the field. It’s important to have players like Lopez around the program.
“If I want to show one of the younger kids how we do things, I need to lead by example,” Lopez said. “That was a big part of the beginning of the season, to take charge and lead the younger kids.”
The result of Lopez’s production, combined with his leadership and maturity, has allowed Edison to recover swiftly from Angelovic’s injury and establish an offensive identity and that couldn’t have happened at a better time.
The Chargers head into their showdown with defending league champion Los Alamitos on a roll. An Edison win would allow it to finish no worse than second place in the league and give it a huge burst of momentum heading into the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs.
“Kobe has been really important for us,” Grady said. “He’s just a hard worker and a good kid. When he hits the hole, he hits it fast. He’s been able to finish runs with his pads down and move us forward.”
Born: Sept. 13, 2000
Hometown: Costa Mesa
Height: 5 feet 8
Weight: 170 pounds
Coach: Jeff Grady
Favorite food: Italian
Favorite movie: “War Dogs”
Favorite athletic moment: Winning the CIF Southern Section Division 3 championship with Edison in 2016.
Week in review: Lopez carried the ball 36 times for 212 yards and one touchdown in a 42-20 victory over rival Fountain Valley in the Battle for the Bell game at Orange Coast College on Oct. 19.
DEVIN UGLAND is a contributor to Times Community News. Follow him on Twitter: @Devin_Ugland