David Lopez wants one particular job when he graduates college this spring: playing in the National Football League.
“I like the aggression of the game,” he said. “I love the game. I was never afraid to hit, it’s fun.”
Lopez, of South Ozone Park, has been working on getting himself drafted, or signed, after finishing up his collegiate career as a safety for Pace University. Because the school does not have a draft day for professional scouts, Lopez has faced an uphill run to the endzone.
He came to Pace after playing running back at Christ the King High School, a team that made it to its league’s championship during his final year. When Lopez, now 22, arrived at Pace, however, he was the young guy on a team of seasoned veterans. In order to gain some experience and retrain for a new position, Lopez opted to red-shirt his freshman year — essentially benching himself.
“The first year I was completely clueless to the schemes,” Lopez said of adjusting to college gridiron life. “I learned from the older guys. The older guys taught me a lot.”
Lopez was ready to go the following year and said it was astounding to take the field for the first time. Although Pace lost its first game, Lopez found his groove and took off.
“Two plays in I got a big hit and it was all smooth from there,” Lopez said.
Tragedy struck the team during Lopez’s tenure, however, and soon after he was forced into a leadership position.
In late 2010, Lopez’s teammate, D.J. Henry, was shot by police in Westchester as he drove away from an altercation outside a bar. As a result, some players were deemed ineligible to play, and others decided to transfer out.
“It took a lot out of us as a team,” he said. “The last two years at Pace, I was one of the older guys with a bunch of 17- and 18-year-old kids.”
Suddenly Lopez, intimidated by the veterans two years earlier, found himself propelled into a leadership role. As a captain who still felt like he was 18, Lopez was now mentoring new players both on and off the field.
Ideally, Lopez says he’d like to play safety for his favorite team, the New York Jets, but getting into the league is his top priority right now. To get himself into big-league shape, he’s been training with former Miami Dolphin and Christ the King alum Willie Poole and teammates from Pace.
One fundamental he’s taken from his mentors is that he is gunning for a job that hundreds, if not thousands, of others are vying for throughout the country. His next step is to make it to a pro-day either at Fordham University or Stony Brook University. The challenge there, Lopez said, is getting the schools to allow him to try out, as players from the home school would obviously get preference.
Under Poole’s leadership, Lopez has learned a new physical and mental aspect to football:
“He’s turned it up a notch on us, but it pays off,” Lopez said of Poole’s training. “He pushes us to stay perfect.”
Poole, who’s trained Lopez for a little more than a month now, said his protégé is conscious of the struggle he faces coming from such a small school. Despite this, Poole said Lopez is a true football player with strong skills and even stronger determination.
“I can honestly say that I really, truly believe that he is a better talent than the school he went to,” Poole said. “He works tremendously hard…he wants to get better.
“The bottom line is the kid can play football,” he added. “This kid is a football player.”
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