Paul Lopez has had quite an impact on the football team at Crescenta Valley High. Leading rusher. Rock in the middle of the defense. Emotional leader.
But hairstyle adviser?
When the Falcons take off their helmets, there they are. Dozens of bald heads.
Lopez and receiver Brett Miller got the idea at the beginning of the season. If Crescenta Valley made the playoffs, all the players would shave their heads. But last week, the team decided it needed extra inspiration against Glendale, so the players gathered Thursday for a mass shaving.
Team unity, they said.
"Paul was pretty much behind (the head-shaving idea)," quarterback David Fielder said.
A senior tailback and captain, Lopez has done much more than that. He leads the Falcons, who are 7-0 and off to their best start since 1976, with 578 yards and nine touchdowns in 78 carries. He rushed for two touchdowns and a season-high 151 yards in Crescenta Valley's emotional 24-17 victory over Glendale last week.
He also played his best game of the season at linebacker, racking up three solo and seven assisted tackles, raising his season total to 14 solo and 48 assisted tackles.
"I finally picked it up on defense," said Lopez, adding that side of the ball is his first love. "I'd rather hit than receive."
Actually there's not that much of a difference between Lopez (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) on offense and defense. He runs just like one would expect a linebacker to run. Straight ahead.
"If they're in our way, we run 'em over," said backfield mate Erik LaCom, describing the style he and Lopez employ.
Lopez's skills have earned him attention from San Diego State and most of the Pacific 10 Conference schools, primarily Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State and California, he said.
Crescenta Valley Coach Jim Beckenhauer said recruiters might have been "on the fence" about Lopez at the start of the year, but his performance seems to have pushed them over, even though Beckenhauer is not sure which position Lopez is destined to play.
"I felt that his future was going to be at linebacker," Beckenhauer said, "but he's done a great job running the ball. It's very difficult to tell just how good he can be at one or the other because he's been playing both, and that takes a lot out of you."
While Lopez's contributions on the field can be measured by statistics, he is at least as valuable in a more intangible role, that of team motivator. "You have your quiet leaders and your vocal leaders," Beckenhauer said. "He does a great job as a vocal leader."
Said LaCom: "He's kind of a yeller on the team. He gets everybody pumped."
Lopez said he had a talk with the team Friday at halftime. The Falcons had led 10-3, but Glendale scored a touchdown in the final minute to go into the locker room with a 10-10 tie. It was the first time this season Crescenta Valley had not led at halftime. "We were kind of down and getting on each other," Lopez said, "but in my view we shouldn't have been, so I told the team that. I said we'd go out in the second half and find out if we were really a good team."
The Falcons did. They played a particularly dominating fourth quarter, which included an 80-yard drive for the winning touchdown, to beat Glendale, avenging losses the last two seasons and earning respect--which has been a goal all season.
Not enough respect, though.
"I'm not really sure if we've caught everyone's eye because some people used Glendale not having their running backs as an excuse," Lopez said, referring to the absence of Glendale backs Shawn Cole and Chris Carr. "I think the way to really get respect is to play well against Muir."
On Friday, the Falcons face Muir, which dismantled Glendale, 41-0, and Hoover, 55-12, in its first two Pacific League games.
Crescenta Valley will look to Lopez not only for a way to penetrate Muir's punishing defense, and not only for a way to stop the Mustangs' high-powered offense, but for motivation. Some spark that might help the team play a near-perfect game.
He'll have to think of something new: The Falcons have had their close shave.