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San Pedro’s Nick Fernandez is ready to make big impact

San Pedro tight end/defensive lineman Nick Fernandez
San Pedro tight end/defensive lineman Nick Fernandez cherishes playing for his neighborhood school.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Fifth in a series of stories profiling top high school football players by position. Today, Nick Fernandez, San Pedro tight end.

Nick Fernandez, born and raised in San Pedro, didn’t play football until he showed up for his freshman year of high school in 2019 and was put on the junior varsity team.

At first, the coaches tried him out at running back, but he was 6 feet 2 and taller than some linemen. It was decided tight end would be his position.

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When he made a one-handed catch and ran 50-plus yards for his first touchdown early that season, the thrill, excitement and genuine love for what he was doing would be ingrained in his memory. Oh, he’d play basketball and baseball, too, but football was different.

“I fell in love with the sport,” he said. “When I was little, I wanted to be a professional soccer player, but as you can see I’m not built like a soccer player anymore.”

At 6-4 and 250 pounds, the 17-year-old senior at San Pedro High has the type of size and athleticism that will remind City Section observers of what Arlis Boardingham accomplished last season for City champion Lake Balboa Birmingham. Boardingham did everything for the Patriots, and that’s how Fernandez will be used for the Pirates.

He’s a tight end who will play a little wildcat quarterback. He’s also a standout defensive lineman who punts and kicks field goals. Considering he played just four games as a sophomore because of COVID-19 protocols, Fernandez is one of those untapped talents beginning to discover his limits. He certainly is willing to go wherever his mind and body take him.

“The more positions, the better,” he said. “I love playing football. I don’t want to leave the field.”

His parents are both educators — his mother is a counselor at Wilmington Banning and his father is a fifth-grade teacher. Perhaps that helps explain how Fernandez is beloved by the adults he comes across.

Take his counselor, Rina Young. She was greeting visitors entering campus and found out Fernandez was the focus of this story. She wouldn’t let the interviewer budge until she made sure her impressions of Fernandez were heard loud and clear.

“He will have wonderful adult conversations,” she said. “He’s so friendly and so nice. He cares about other people. He’s one of the best kids I’ve met.”

Then you hear Fernandez talk about the meaning of “team” and you understand what his counselor is talking about.

“It’s always a team game,” he said. “I love what I do.”

During the offseason, Fernandez became one of the most recruited athletes in City Section football, accumulating more than 15 scholarship offers. It happened because each time recruiters came to campus, they found out about his skills, character and grades.

There’s no telling whether tight end or defensive line will be the best position for Fernandez, but he has become a weapon on offense with his catching and blocking.

“I didn’t realize how much hands you need for blocking,” he said. “I’ve always tucked and hit ‘em. Now I’m using my head, my chest, my arms, using my legs and pushing them and turning them, using my size against them.”

Receptions and touchdowns are what he lives for.

“When I get the ball, it’s like everything blacks out,” he said. “It’s me and a touchdown or me and the person in front of me. It’s like a dream. Me and whomever is in front of me is going to get blown up or they’re going to blow me up or I’m going to do something crazy.”

For Fernandez to play for his neighborhood school is something he cherishes. His mother graduated from San Pedro. His father graduated from San Pedro. His younger brother will be going to San Pedro.

“There’s nice people, there’s fun people,” he said. “Everybody knows something. It’s a small big town. Whenever you go to the store, you’re going to run into somebody you know.”

Here is the Los Angeles Times’ nine-part series on top returning high school football players plus a look at the preseason top 25 rankings and other features.

On Friday nights this fall, there’s no doubt Fernandez will be the focus of attention in a community that loves its sports teams.

Tight ends to watch

Name, School, Ht., Wt., Yr., Comment

Robert Dixon, Simi Valley, 6-5, 220, Sr. Big body and big target

Nick Fernandez, San Pedro, 6-4, 250, Sr. Three-sport athlete is rising prospect

Jose Frutos, JSerra, 6-0, 190, Sr. All-Trinity League honoree makes tough catches

Jamari Johnson, Inglewood, 6-5, 250, Sr. Louisville commit is star athlete

Niko Lopez, Santa Margarita, 6-3, 210, Sr. Colorado State commit makes catch after tough catch

Ryan McBride, West Torrance, 6-4, 240, Jr. Big target with good hands

Trent Merriman, Corona del Mar, 6-2, 230, Sr. Great grades with versatility and agility

Spencer Shannon, Mater Dei, 6-7, 240, Sr. Texas commit known for blocking skills

Ryner Swanson, Laguna Beach, 6-4, 230, Jr. Will be No. 1 tight end from Class of 2024

Colton Yoos, Newbury Park, 6-4, 215, Sr. Has body, hands to make impact

Tomorrow: Seth Fao, Wilmington Banning defensive lineman .


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