“It’s the only position I’ve ever played,” Lopez said.
A few years ago, when he was still attending grammar school in Weehawken, Lopez longed to have a chance to be like another standout Weehawken High School quarterback named Oliver Molano.
“I knew him well growing up,” Lopez said. “He lived near my friends where they used to hang out. He would come and help me with some things. He taught me how to throw the ball and how to escape the pocket. I looked up to him. I went to his games and watched. He was very agile. He could make plays.”
Molano was a representative of Weehawken High in the annual New Jersey Scholastic Coaches Association’s North-South All-Star game in 2015 before heading off to Monroe College and later Kean University.
Molano gave Lopez the inspiration necessary to become a quarterback for the Indians as well.
But when practices began in August, Lopez wasn’t certain that he would get the chance this season.
“I wasn’t sure that I’d get the job,” said Lopez, who is a junior at Weehawken. “I always thought I had a shot. I believed in myself.”
Before the onset of training camp, Lopez worked hard with the idea that he would become the starting quarterback
“I worked on my footwork,” Lopez said. “I lifted a lot. I went to the weight room practically every day. I threw the ball a lot with my teammates. I brought a ball down to the field [on the Weehawken waterfront] and I worked on my throwing with my teammates.”
Lopez wasn’t certain that he was going to be the man, but new Weehawken head coach Nick DeStefano knew all along from preseason workouts that Lopez was going to be his man.
“I think he has all you need in a quarterback,” DeStefano said. “He has the character and he has the intangibles, which is what you look for first. I thought he was more of a running back first, but he worked hard to become more of a passer. I knew he was always going to be one of the best athletes on the field. He’s the type of kid who always wants to make a play.”
However, with Lopez at the helm, things didn’t exactly go well for DeStefano and his new team. After winning the first game of the season against Bogota – DeStefano’s former school – the Indians lost five straight contests.
And the last loss, a 40-0 drubbing at the hands of Wood-Ridge, Lopez had his worst outing to date, throwing four interceptions.
“Jimmy’s very intense and passionate,” DeStefano said. “After that game, there were some tears rolling down his cheeks. It was hard to go through that losing streak. I don’t think he was having fun losing. After the last one, he just sat in the locker room. He really wanted to turn things around.”
DeStefano was a patient man.
“Don’t forget, this is a kid who had zero total yards last year,” DeStefano said. “He played a little on defense, but didn’t touch the ball on offense. He didn’t get a varsity carry. He didn’t throw a varsity pass. But I knew he always had it in him. I told him he has a magic number. That’s zero, as in zero turnovers. If you don’t turn it over, you have a good chance to win.”
Lopez knows that he’s leading a young squad.
“It’s been tough, because we have such a young team,” Lopez said. “None of us have very little varsity experience. I tried to treat it as just another game, but we really needed to win.”
Lopez made sure of that almost on his very own.
Lopez carried the ball 15 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns and completed eight of 12 passes for 144 yards and another touchdown, leading Weehawken to a 34-12 victory, snapping the five-game losing streak in the process.
For his efforts, Lopez has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
DeStefano believes that Lopez will only get better in the future.
“This is really the first chance that he’s seeing a defense full speed,” DeStefano said. “He’s going to get better. He can get expedientially better next year. He’s one of our captains as a junior. He has a different leadership style. He’s not a vocal leader. He’s quiet. But he’s got a good future for us.”
Lopez also plays baseball for the Indians in the spring.
“It makes me stay in shape,” Lopez said about being an outfielder on the Weehawken baseball squad. “I’ve always been motivated. This win has really helped us as a team and helped me as a quarterback. We know what our potential is now. This makes me realize that I can do so much more as a player.” – Jim Hague.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.