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December 5, 2019

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All-Vegas football: Sack artist Gabriel Lopez from Desert Pines leads Sun’s preseason team

LVSUN HSFB Media Day 2018 All-City

Christopher DeVargas

Gabriel Lopez of the Desert Pines High football team poses for a photo at the Las Vegas Sun’s high school football media day Tuesday July 31, 2018 at the Red Rock Resort and Casino.

Las Vegas Sun's HSFB Media Day Team Portraits

Members of the Moapa Valley High School football team are pictured during the Las Vegas Sun's high school football media day at the Red Rock Resort on July 24, 2019. They include, from left, Kellen Wallace, Hayden Redd, Thomas Bellavance, NAthan Dalley and Kele Henderson. Launch slideshow »
Prep Sports Now

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Gabriel Lopez was a 185-pound high school freshman and a relative unknown on the football field. Desert Pines High, which had college prospects at most positions, was projected to win the state title.

Coaches didn’t expect much of Lopez in their pursuit of a championship. After all, most freshmen have to wait their turn while honing their craft on the lower-level team. Then, Lopez rushed the quarterback.

“Here’s this undersized kid, but he was relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback,” Desert Pines coach Tico Rodriguez said. “We had a loaded team, and he was a starter.”

Lopez had eight sacks as a freshman and the Jaguars won the state championship. He was again brilliant as a sophomore, helping Desert Pines win another championship. And, more important, Lopez became a college recruit himself in landing his first scholarship offer, from Minnesota.

“It was a blessing to know I was going to play college football,” said Lopez, a three-star recruit who also has offers from most of the Mountain West schools. “That scholarship is everything for me. Without it, I wouldn't be going to a university. It takes a big weight off my family because they won’t have to worry about me.”

The outside linebacker, now a senior, leads the Las Vegas Sun's preseason all-Vegas team. It’s our annual listing of the area’s top players, most of whom have major recruiting interest.

Lopez is one of the most decorated pass rushers in state history, with 33 sacks. The Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association’s unofficial record is 33.5 sacks by Joshua Symonette of Palo Verde, meaning Lopez will surely shatter the mark early in the season.

While establishing a state record is an accomplishment Lopez doesn’t take lightly, he’s more concerned about making amends for a regional semifinal loss to Arbor View last season. Desert Pines blew a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter when its defensive front, including Lopez, became tired and was pushed around by much-stronger Arbor View.

“They pounded us over and over in the second half. I took that personally,” Lopez said.

That pounding gave Lopez plenty of motivation for offseason training. He went from 215 pounds to 235, and was a constant leader in the Jaguars’ weight room.

“He took it hard. We let that game slip through our hands,” Rodriguez said. “He made it a personal goal that we don’t lose games like that.”

Lopez also spent the offseason visiting college campuses, which is one of the perks of being a recruit. He realizes he’s one of the lucky ones — a kid from humble beginnings seeing places he only dreamed of. Soon, he will be attending one of those schools. And soon, if the season plays out like many project, Lopez and his teammates will get another crack at Arbor View.

“Words can’t describe how it makes us feel at Desert Pines when kids like Gabriel Lopez get to pursue their dreams. That’s why we got into coaching,” Rodriguez said.

Here’s the rest of the all-Vegas team.

OFFENSE

QB: Micah Bowens, senior, Bishop Gorman

The Penn State commit passed for 2,778 yards and 29 touchdowns last season in helping Gorman win a 10th straight state championship. He also rushed for 927 yards and 15 touchdowns.

WR: Rome Odunze, senior, Bishop Gorman

The Washington commit had 60 catches for 1,347 yards and 15 scores in 2018.

WR: Peyton Thornton, senior, Faith Lutheran

Thornton hauled in 45 passes for 788 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018.

WR: Miles Davis, senior, Las Vegas High

Davis had 38 catches for 437 yards and four touchdowns in 2018.

TE: Moliki Matavao, junior, Liberty

Matavao had 18 catches for 327 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore. He’s a four-star recruit with scholarship offers from the likes of Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

TE: Darnell Washington, senior, Desert Pines

The 6-foot-7, 270-pound Washington is a five-star recruit and arguably the nation’s top-ranked tight end. He’s received scholarship offers from a who’s who of programs. Last year, he averaged 13 yards per reception with two touchdowns.

RB: Jordan Norwood, senior, Cimarron-Memorial

He rushed for 1,463 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2018. He’s eyeing a 2,000-yard senior season.

RB: Christian Vaughn, senior, Desert Oasis

Vaughn led Southern Nevada in rushing in 2018 with 1,620 yards. He added 22 touchdowns.

RB: Zyrus Fiaseu, junior, Liberty

Fiaseu rushed for 798 yards and eight touchdowns on 104 carries as a sophomore in 2018. The three-star recruit, who doubles as a linebacker, has scholarship offers from the likes of Nebraska and Oregon.

OL: Michael Overland, senior, Cimarron-Memorial

The 6-foot-4, 290-pound offensive guard will be a three-year varsity starter. Overland has a UNLV scholarship offer.

OL: Tia Savea, junior, Desert Pines

The 6-foot-5, 240-pound offensive tackle is considered a four-star recruiting prospect for 2021 and has scholarship offers from the likes of Michigan and LSU.

OL: Hayden Engel, senior, Bishop Gorman

The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Engel is the most experienced lineman on the state’s best team. He has a handful of scholarship offers, including Utah State.

OL: Alofaletauia Maluia, senior, Liberty

Maluia is a three-year varsity player and team leader for Liberty, a consensus top-50 team nationally and perennial Nevada power.

ATH: Gerick Robinson, junior, Centennial

The junior flourished last year in his first varsity season, catching 44 passes for 565 yards and three scores, and accounting for three kickoff returns for touchdowns.

DEFENSE

DL: Braezhon Ross, junior, Desert Pines

The junior defensive tackle is a four-star recruiting prospect with scholarship offers from the likes of Arizona, LSU and Florida.

DL: Tai Tuinei, senior, Arbor View

The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Tuinei, who is verbally committed to UNLV, had 74 tackles and nine sacks in 2018.

DL: Lee Wilson, senior, Legacy

The 5-foot-11, 290-pound Wilson had 73 tackles in 2018.

DL: Jonathan Pickett, senior, Desert Pines

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound defensive end has scholarship offers from Oregon and West Virginia.

LB: Gabriel Lopez, senior, Desert Pines

Lopez, who had 16 sacks in 2018, will be a four-year varsity starter. He has scholarship offers from Minnesota, Utah State, Hawaii, UNLV and others.

LB: Bryan Certain, senior, Bishop Gorman

The 5-foot-10, 215-pound Certain had a Gorman-best 82 tackles last season. He has a scholarship offer from Northern Arizona.

LB: Hunter Kaupiko, senior, Faith Lutheran

Kaupiko had 113 tackles and 12.5 sacks in 2018. The Fresno State commit has 296 career tackles, which is 132 away from establishing a new state mark.

DB: Julian Rohan, junior, Faith Lutheran

Rohan, who has scholarship offers from UNLV and Utah, plays all over the field for the Crusaders. He had 600 total yards of offense and six touchdowns in 2018 at running back and wide receiver. His biggest impact this season could come in the secondary.

S: Lincoln Tuioti-Mariner, senior, Bishop Gorman

The Air Force commit and Gorman captain had 32 tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery in 2018.

K/P: Easton Jones, senior, Arbor View

Jones went 7 of 12 on field goals attempts in 2018 with a long of 44 yards. He also averaged 34.5 yards per punt.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 702-990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21

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