San Perlita’s Lopez signs with Concordia track

San Perlita athlete Gabriel Lopez signed to compete in track & field for Concordia University on June 10 at the high school gym. Lopez was a Class 2A regional qualifier as a hurdler and in cross country, along with playing basketball for the Trojans. Courtesy Photo/Albert Pena

LYFORD — Gabriel Lopez left quite a mark on San Perlita athletics, and now he’s aiming to do the same with a new school.

The multi-sport athlete qualified for the Class 2A regional track meet as a hurdler, the regional cross country meet and was a member of the boys basketball team throughout his years with the Trojans. On June 10, he signed to compete in track & field for Concordia University in Austin.

“It was exciting (when I signed). I never thought I would be in this position. But now that all my hard work paid off, it’s really exciting,” Lopez said. “I just want to thank all my family for being there with me through the good and bad times. They were my backbone through all this. They inspired me. They always told me if you work hard, good things will come out of it.”

San Perlita coach Nataniel Garza said Lopez definitely put in the work necessary to earn this opportunity. Garza has coached Lopez in track and basketball since Lopez was in eighth grade and praised his dedication to getting better every day. On the basketball court, Lopez developed from a role player into a starter who was the unanimous District 32-2A defensive player of the year and selected for the RGVBCA Sub-5A All-Valley defensive and first teams this season.

Because of San Perlita’s long playoff run in basketball and the COVID-19 pandemic ending spring sports seasons, Lopez only got to compete in one track meet his senior year, but he made the most of it. Lopez won both the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles at the Mercedes meet with times of 15.84 and 40.21, respectively, with very minimal practice prior to the meet.

“He had not touched the hurdles all basketball season. He got, maybe, a 20-minute practice in the day before the meet,” Garza said. “The times he ran were very legitimate state qualifying times. I’m completely confident that if the season doesn’t get cut short, he gets to state.”

Lopez also felt that a state trip, and even a state title, were within his reach this year, and said it hit him hard when the season was canceled. But with graduation behind him, Lopez is focused on facing new challenges while competing at the NCAA Division III level for the Tornados.

Lopez has been preparing for the responsibilities that come with being a college athlete for some time. Garza said he sharpened his organization skills and showed his commitment by balancing summer track and basketball, and never used his busy schedule as an excuse to take a day off.

Mercedes boys track & field coach Pete Martinez III noticed Lopez’s potential two years ago and got him involved with summer track through the Texas Amateur Athletic Federation. Lopez credited multiple coaches for leading him through the summer and helping him develop.

“I didn’t know about summer track until Coach Pete talked to my mom and told her, ‘I’ve seen your son run, and he can be one of the top dogs in the Valley,’” Lopez said. “From then on that was my main goal, to get better and work hard every day to prove to myself I could get to the next level and to make my family happy.”

Lopez reached out to the Concordia coaching staff after his friend and teammate, Tige Johnson, suggested they should attend the same university. Johnson signed to play basketball for the Tornados in May. Lopez said after talking with head track & field coach Megan Wagenaar, her staff and some Concordia runners, they immediately felt like family and he knew it was the right place for him. He’s still deciding whether to major in criminal justice or kinesiology.

One of the lessons Lopez said he learned with the Trojans is, “You have to put your heart, your soul, all your effort,” into something if you want to be the best. Garza said Lopez did just that with everything he tried, which Garza believes will help Lopez find success at the next level.

“I’m extremely proud of him. He’s just a great, all-around athlete, and he did great things for our program,” Garza said. “He wanted to be the best in everything he did and he’s going to take that same approach to the next level, and if anything he’s going to pick it up another level. He’s going to be able to handle everything over there and excel, because that’s just the way he is.”