GREEN BAY, Wis. – Growing up in Arizona as the son of a football coach, Texans rookie defensive tackle Roy Lopez III rarely left his father’s side.
As his father, Roy Lopez Jr., shouted instructions and blew his whistle, his 2-year-old son didn’t just want attention. He wanted to get involved in the action.
“I would be lining up my players and Roy was just tugging at my shorts and would walk onto the field with those bow legs and he would get down in his stance,” Roy Lopez Jr. said in a telephone interview. “It was crazy, but he always wanted to play with the older kids. Since he was in diapers, it’s been, ‘Ready, set go!’ and he was ready to go. It’s really neat as a dad to see his growth.
"I’m always the guy that’s like, ‘Keep getting better.’He’s a smart young man who’s been around football for his whole life. Poor kid, he had to stay at the training facility all day with me and now it’s like second nature. He loves the game and God blessed him with size and speed and awareness.
Now, Lopez is a fully-fledged NFL player whose gritty wrestling background and powerful build is creating leverage in his daily grappling sessions with offensive linemen. The Texans’ sixth-round draft pick from the University of Arizona has firmly placed himself in the conversation for a roster spot and playing time and has quickly earned respect from his teammates and coaches.
Lopez Jr., a former Arizona High School Coach of the Year, took a red-eye flight from Arizona to Green Bay to watch his son’s first NFL preseason gameSaturday nightagainst the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. This is a proud moment for the family, but Lopez Jr. also have his notebook ready to provide tips and constructive criticism afterwards.
“Roy is in a good place and we pray to God he plays to his level in Green Bay and shows his motor,” Lopez Jr. said. “That’s a big thing at this level. If you can consistently show your motor, you get can get into the rotation. Once he gets into the rotation, the sky is the limit for him. I just pray for the best so he can keep taking people’s hearts and souls.”
A graduate transfer from New Mexico State, Lopez recorded 18 tackles with four for losses in just five games last season for Arizona last season. Hehad 137 tackles, 20 for losses, during his New Mexico State football career.
Lopez’s relationship with his parents instilled a strong work ethic in him, and his father taught him a passion for the game of football.
“My dad and my mom, they are my biggest fans, but my dad, when I'm home training, I go out to his practice,” Lopez III said. “My dad impacts me a lot, man. He texts me every day. My dad is a YouTube freak, so he'll stay on YouTube for hours. He don't even listen to headphones.
“He just plays it in his ear. He'll send me an old-school song or acoustic or he sends me a lot of gospel songs. He's proud of me and I'm proud of him. We have a friendly dad-son love relationship.”
At 6-foot-2, 318 pounds, Lopez III provides a stout, blue-collar presence in the middle of the Texans' defense.
Lopez III, who had a 113-3 wrestling record at Mesquite High School in Tempe where he was named Arizona Defensive Lineman of the Year, bench pressed 225 pounds 36 times at his campus Pro Day workout.
Watching him play football, it’s evident that Lopez III has a wrestling background. At the line of scrimmage, Lopez applies leverage with explosiveness as he slams his hands into blockers’ shoulder pads. Lopez has been aggressive and active at training camp, routinely penetrating the backfield and hardly ever getting shoved around.
“I definitely encourage everybody to wrestle,” Lopez III said. “It will teach you everything about yourself. My wrestling background I give a lot of credit to it because it's the truth. You push yourself to the limit to where nobody thinks you're going to be able to go to.
“So, like the state championship, they were in sudden death so you've got to dig deep for those, and you're breathing heavy, but you find out who you are.The strength aspect that goes along hand-in-hand with conditioning, and when you’re tired, you have to be able to perform.”
When Lopez III was wrestling, he had to get down to 285 pounds from 325 pounds to wrestle as a heavyweight in Arizona.
“That took some guts to get down,” Lopez Jr. said. “He was a man child. Nobody could score on him.”
Signed to a four-year contract worth $3.881 million, including a $182,844 signing bonus, Lopez III has a lot of strength working in his favor.
“Really strong,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio said. “Has good playing strength. It’s really about playing with leverage and playing with technique, bending your knees. I’d say Roy has some concept of that just given his background. Tough as nails.”
From a football temperament and mentality standpoint, Lopez III has left the Texans with no complaints, only compliments.
“When we drafted him, we knew what we were getting when we got him and he's been everything that we wanted him to be from that standpoint and he's just falling right in with those guys,” Texans coach David Culley said. “He never says a word. I like the fact that he's tough, aggressive, he's a grinder. He's grinding every play, every play that he's out there.”
Although Lopez isn't known for having dynamic pass rushing moves, his toughness and bulk allows him clog up the middle as a run-stopper. The Texans definitely approve of what he’s doing.
“He's a flash is what he's done," Texans defensive coordinator Lovie Smith said. "He will be playing the nose guard position for us, but he's a nose guard with a little bit of three-technique athletic ability because he has a little bit of wiggle to him also, strong, compact. He's done some good things. You need to be bringing young players up through the system. Like what he's done so far.”
Mentored by older players, Lopez III stays late to gain knowledge from veteran linemen like Brandon Dunn and Maliek Collins.
“Try to give back to my teammates as much as they put into me,” Lopez III said. “The way the old guys have invested in me, I don't know if you guys stay after practice, they are coaching just as much as everybody else. They truly care. They truly worry about us and how we feel. So you know, just being able to grow with them is probably the biggest thing that I've loved throughout this whole camp.
“Everybody is a good athlete. Everybody is fast and flying all over the place. Everybody is competing. So just being able to do my part, understand what I got to do on this play and get it done. I keep saying the vets, but it's the truth. The way they taught me and brought me up throughout this whole camp is an every-day thing, and I can't give them enough credit. You know, just constantly being in my ear, so that's something that has helped me along.”
The coaching staff aren’t the only ones taking notice of Lopez’s strong training camp.
His teammates enjoy his physical, enthusiastic style. Several veteran defensive linemen have taken note of how he approaches he game along with rookie linebacker Garret Wallow.
“That's my boy,” Wallow said. “He's kind of one of those guys that I latched on to coming in because we both have a good mindset. Definitely a defensive player, definitely a physical guy, so yeah, I'm excited, I think he's going to have a great future, especially in the league. He's a smart player, he's a tough player and you can definitely see it out there while he's out there on the practice field.”
Lopez III can’t wait to set foot on Lambeau Field and show everyone what he’s capable of. It’s will mark an emotional moment for him and his family and a touchstone for how far he's come to make it to the NFL.
“It's going to be amazing,” Lopez III said. “I'm excited, we're all excited. We can't wait to play somebody else finally and it's Lambeau Field. So, you're a little kid, you hear about it, that's cool. But finally able to set foot on it, it's going to be something to kind of take a deep breath.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 years and has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128