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Column: The Force is with Sebastian Romero of Los Angeles High

Los Angeles High's Sebastian Romero holds a dumbbell.
Los Angeles High’s Sebastian Romero has been recruiting classmates to join the football team.
(Glenda Mena)

Sebastian Romero, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound offensive tackle and linebacker at Los Angeles High, is so committed to playing his senior season after the school opted out of playing last spring that he has spent weeks trying to recruit one of his friends to join the team. The friend is 6-foot-3 and a “Star Wars” fan.

“I have this old lightsaber,” Romero said. “I think it’s worth $1,000. I told him, ‘Hey, you play football with us, I’ll give you the lightsaber after the season.’”

Romero, a 4.0 student who’s also captain of the tennis team, learned via a video call in March with coach Anthony Jackson that his junior season wouldn’t take place because of COVID-19 while dozens of other Los Angeles Unified School District teams played an abbreviated spring season.

“It was very devastating,” Romero said. “I envied them because they had a season and we didn’t. It was very sad. We had up to 20 players willing to play, but parents were concerned. Our coach apologized to the seniors. He said if it was up to him, we’d have played.”

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Romero said he spent a month not knowing how to move forward.

“I was questioning if I wanted to play my senior year,” he said.

Then he changed his mind and acted decisively.

The Los Angeles County Health Department published revised guidelines requiring the weekly COVID testing of athletes, starting Sept. 1.

“I love the sport and I’m not going to quit,” he said. “I got off the floor and started working out for three months.”

He bought 30- and 35-pound dumbbells. He started going on three-mile runs. He did 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups daily. He grew emotionally and physically.

“I wish it had only been a week, but that’s what happened,” he said of why he waited a month to return to football. “I do need improvement, but I’m better than I was.”

Jackson, his coach, followed his player’s physical development on Instagram. And it served as motivation to see the commitment of a single student.

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“He’s a perfect example why I work hard,” Jackson said. “I show up when they need me. He pushes you as a coach.”

Los Angeles opens its season Friday, and Romero intends to keep asking students on campus to join him.

“It’s a really tough journey, but it’s not impossible,” he said. “I’m very religious and every morning I’d pray to God to give me the strength to keep going. I had teammates, I had a coach, I had my parents supporting me on the journey. If I didn’t have them, I would have probably quit. Because I had so much support, I keep getting back up.”

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On the first day of school, there was such a long line trying to get into campus that a TV helicopter captured the scene. The district’s Daily Pass server had crashed. Romero said he spent more than an hour waiting, but there was some good news.

“I think I got two dudes to join the team,” he said.

Romero is one of many teenagers determined to play this season, and every adult in power needs to find ways to help them no matter the obstacles ahead.

The lessons he learned wouldn’t have been possible without participating on a team. Now, if only he can come up with a few more lightsabers as a recruiting incentive.

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Jackson said, “I’m going to go to Costco and get a bag of them lightsabers.”


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