by Tom Pedulla
In an age when many high school athletes choose to specialize in one sport, senior Michael Lopez of Sleepy Hollow High School is a young man for all seasons.
He is a central figure on the football, wrestling and lacrosse teams while distinguishing himself in the classroom as an honor student.
“He is a young man who has so much to offer. If you were a father and had a son, he’s the kind of person you’d want your son to grow up to be,” said Charles Scarpulla, Sleepy Hollow’s athletic director. “He’s caring, hard-working, passionate about the things he does. He wants to succeed in life.”
Lopez’s importance on the football field cannot be overstated. The 5-8, 185-pounder served as a running back, linebacker and kick return specialist. He carried 147 times and accounted for 847 of the Headless Horsemen’s 1,593 rushing yards and seven of their 13 touchdowns on the ground. Defensively, he made 47 tackles, 24 unassisted.
On the wrestling mat, he owned an undefeated record through the early stages of this season, including the championship in the 195-pound division. In the spring, the lacrosse team will depend on him for his defensive prowess and his skill at winning face-offs, among other attributes.
Lopez said of his non-stop action, “When you work so hard for something you love, it doesn’t seem that hard.”
Steve Borys, who recently resigned as football coach, wishes more youngsters would follow Lopez’s three-sport example instead of focusing on one with the belief that such a single-minded approach might enhance prospects for a college athletic scholarship.
“That is one of the misconceptions out there, that every kid should specialize. Every kid should play three sports,” Borys said. “Anyone who tells you differently doesn’t have the facts.”
“You see kids who play just one sport and they wind up overusing certain muscle groups,” he added.
Such overuse can lead to injuries. Lopez, due to all of his activity, remains in peak condition. He has been remarkably durable.
“He has a great motor, tremendous energy,” Borys said. “He’s one of the few guys who could carry the ball 20 times a game, make 10 tackles, and not really think twice about it.”
Lopez credits his high school career with making him mentally tough.
“I do feel some wear and tear, but if you’re mentally strong, you fight through it. It’s something I learned to do,” he said. “Not to sound cocky, but I think I’m mentally one of the strongest people at Sleepy Hollow.”
That shows itself in many ways, especially during this wrestling season. He is sometimes asked to confront opponents who are 10 pounds heavier than his natural weight of 185 pounds.
“He certainly doesn’t back down from a challenge. That’s not in Michael’s makeup,” said wrestling coach Brian Tompkins. “He’ll wrestle anybody.”
Lopez believes success in wrestling – in all sports – can be about attitude.
“My goal is to be the toughest person to wrestle because wrestling is all about being tough, aggressive and smart,” he said. “I think I have all of that.”
Lopez exerts a profound influence over every team he plays on. Lacrosse coach Gary DiVico singled him out for qualities beyond his spin moves as a running back, his explosiveness as a wrestler, and his stickwork in lacrosse.
“Michael is a better person than a player,” he said. “He’s always there to help. He’ll ask me, ‘Coach, can I help the young kids?’ He’ll help me do clinics.”
Lopez has two older brothers, John and Chris, who graduated from Sleepy Hollow as three-sport lettermen. John played the same three sports as Michael. Chris substituted baseball for lacrosse.
Lopez noted that football is his favorite sport. “I love the collision,” he said. “I love the crowd.” He is being recruited by a number of small-college football programs.
He credits much of his academic success to his whirlwind of athletic activity. “It’s helped,” he said, “because it gives me a strict schedule.”