Garfield linebacker Alejandro Lupercio has a 4.2 GPA and hopes to become… (Katie Falkenberg / For the…)
When a 17-year-old high school football player says he wants to apply to Caltech and MIT, everyone should take notice.
Alejandro Lupercio, a 6-foot-2, 193-pound senior linebacker at Los Angeles Garfield, has his sights set on becoming a mechanical engineer.
"It's not going to be easy, but I can do it," he said.
With a 4.2 grade-point average, Lupercio is more than just a key player on the field. He's a tutor for teammates in study hall. When Coach Lorenzo Hernandez needs someone to help with a calculus question, it's usually Lupercio. And when Hernandez gives a talk to his team, he watches to see Lupercio's reaction.
"He just nods to confirm everything I said while other kids are just staring," Hernandez said. "If he doesn't, it's 'Dang, let me find a new choice of words.'"
On Friday night, Garfield will face Roosevelt in the East Los Angeles Classic at East Los Angeles College.
It has been a hectic week for Lupercio, who has been staying up until 2 a.m. finishing up a 17-section application to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
There's no guarantee he's even going to play on Friday, because he has a shoulder injury that he thought was fixed with off-season surgery. It has been bothering him for weeks.
There's no doubting Lupercio's toughness. He played most of last season with a torn tendon in his shoulder that required surgery. He didn't tell anyone how much it hurt for fear he'd have to stop playing.
"I had to suck it up," he said. "I stalled with my doctor, told him I wasn't hurting. Eventually, I had to tell the truth. It feels like a hammer hitting your shoulder."
The pain has returned, and it has limited his time on the field in recent weeks. He wants to play against Roosevelt, because it's something he has looked forward to since he was a young boy watching his older brother play in the game.
"I always dreamed of playing in the Classic my senior year, and I've worked hard ever since," he said.
Lupercio will do whatever it takes to succeed on and off the field. He recalls many nights studying until 2 or 3 in the morning, doing homework and then going to school with less than four hours' sleep.
He's studying for an advanced calculus class on his own because it isn't offered at Garfield, but he needs it if he wants to get into one of the prestigious colleges to which he's seeking admission.
One of his hobbies is cycling and riding off-road bikes.
"Maybe I can come up with a revolutionary bicycle design," he said.
Hernandez, though, has another idea for Lupercio's talents.
"I will make sure I ask Alejandro to build us our new football stadium and will check for the head nod," he said.
Lupercio will be trying to become the first member of his family to graduate from college. His parents came from Mexico and have tried to impress upon him the importance of education.
"I'd be home and wanted to fall asleep, and they told me, 'No, it's important,'" he said of his studying.
Lupercio was asked a difficult question for a teenager: What's more important, finishing the MIT application or playing in the Garfield-Roosevelt game?
"My future is very important, but so is my game," he said. "I have to rush home just to get this application done."
Such is the hectic life of a teenager determined to fulfill his dreams.