The day's practice for the Senior Bowl high school all-star game is over for the North-East squad, and quarterback Ronnie Lopez paces slowly, deliberately across the East L. A. College football field toward the locker room. He stops to allow a group of players to pass, as if to ensure that he is the last man off the field.
Lopez doesn't mind waiting--he knows the virtue of patience.
Patience is what allowed him to cede the helm of the Franklin High offense to his older brother, Ricky, his junior year while he watched the action from the sidelines. Patience allowed him to stand tall in the pocket his senior year and wait for his secondary receiver to get open. Patience helped him complete 64% of his passes last season and limit his interceptions to six.
And it was his patience that won him the starting quarterback job in the Senior Bowl, which will be played at Santa Monica City College at 7:30 Friday night.
Lopez even tries to use patience when he talks of his future in college football. But his higher aspirations inevitably break through.
"I'm playing football for an education," said Lopez, who will attend Pierce College in the fall. "But once I'm there, maybe I'll have a chance at the pros."
Armando Gonzalez, who has coached four All-City quarterbacks in his 13 years at Franklin, has a keen eye for talent at the position and sees Lopez playing football beyond Pierce.
"He's definitely a major college prospect," said Gonzalez, who added Lopez's drop-back passing style would be best utilized at a Western Athletic Conference school like Utah or Wyoming. "He has matured intelligence-wise, and physically."
Pierce Coach Bob Enger was hooked on Lopez at first sight.
"God gave him a great gift," said Enger, who said Lopez will get a chance to start as a freshman. "We're going to give him a chance to show that Ronnie Lopez is one of the best around."
Lopez's postseason workouts have added 22 pounds to his 6-foot, 4-inch frame, bringing him to 212 pounds. He credits lifting and a diet of chicken, beans and rice for the added weight.
"It's putting pounds on me so I'll keep eating it," he said.
Gonzalez says Lopez's summer workouts have put so much heat on his passes that when he helped by throwing at Franklin's spring practices, receivers complained the balls were thrown too hard.
"He's just throwing BBs now," Gonzalez said. "The ball was actually making a humming sound when he threw it."
Lopez's arm strength is no secret among area coaches. "He's got a rocket," said Lincoln Coach Randy Rodriguez, who will head the North-East team Friday. "He throws very, very hard."
But receivers didn't have problems catching his passes in last season's games. In fact, Lopez connected on 130 of his 202 attempts for 18 touchdowns. He helped the Freeway League-champion Panthers to a second consecutive City Section 3-A title with a 30-13 win over Palisades High.
"He was on the money all the time," said Chad Infranca, Lopez's favorite receiver, who had 65 receptions for 17 touchdowns. "He found me on the post a lot and there was no time for (the defensive backs) to react."
When Lopez fumbled on the Panthers' first possession of the championship game, setting up a Palisades' touchdown, the home crowd was silenced. But Lopez, unswayed by the fumble, regained his composure in the next series and the rhythm returned to the Franklin offense.
"We came back on the field and boom --that was it," he said. "Everything was working-- boom . Everything I threw was there. Everything coach called was there. Everything was happening."
That was no fluke. Lopez is, according to Gonzalez, a "coaches' dream." In fact, Gonzalez claims his charge never missed a day of practice.
"He gave me everything he had," the coach says.
Lopez's performances are not entirely self motivated--he admits he's inspired by raucous fans.
"I hear the crowd and people clapping and that's it," he said. "It just gets me up. I hear people and I want to hear it more so I keep (completing passes). All of a sudden, it just comes natural."
One aspect of the position that doesn't come as naturally to Lopez is running, at least not running quickly. He prefers staying in the pocket to scrambling. Lopez wistfully admits that if he had the speed of his brother, who opted to play baseball at Pasadena City College instead of playing college football, "I'd be somewhere. That's mainly what colleges look for--a quarterback that can move with a strong arm."
But the fast track to stardom isn't Lopez's speed. He doesn't mind the wait.