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Hadon Lopez: freshman sensation
Hadon Lopez isn't your ordinary freshman.

"For him to go from pop warner to varsity is an impressive feat," Bulldogs coach Brett Johnson said. "No one can remember that happening here in the last 30-plus years. It takes a special kid to be able to do that and handle the pressure."

Hadon, 15, earned the starting middle linebacker role on Ceres High's varsity football team in August.

"At the scrimmage against Patterson, a couple of the kids came up to me and said, 'Hadon needs to be with us,'" Johnson said. "That says a lot. He's doing stuff you usually don't see until you get seniors."

"I thought I was going to be on JV," Lopez said. "I guess they liked what they saw."

Lopez ranked in the top 10 in the Stanislaus District with 50 tackles through the Bulldogs' first four games. The 5-foot-8, 165-pounder tallied 14 tackles in his debut against Grace Davis on Sept. 6.

"It's a challenge," he said. "It's a lot faster and the players are bigger."

Hadon didn't take up the sport until the age of 12. He followed in the footsteps of cousins Justin and Jesse Hidahl when he signed up to play for the Ceres Cowboys youth football organization's JV squad in 2004.

"I saw them doing it and it looked fun," Lopez said.

Hadon played two years varsity, leading the 2006 team to a Delta Youth Football League Super Bowl appearance.

Hadon and Justin are Bulldog teammates this season.

"I love everything about football," Lopez said. "I love the contact. It's not an individual sport. It's a team sport."

For the second straight year, Hadon's sacrificed his body in an effort to help his teammates. He played with a shoulder injury last year. This season, he suffered a deep bruise in his right knee against Downey in non-conference play during Week 2.

Lopez has already drawn comparisons to Cruz Leon, who starred at middle linebacker for two years at Ceres High. He led the Bulldogs to a third-place finish in the Central California Conference (7-2) and into the Division I playoffs for the first time in school history as a senior in 2003. Leon won the CCC Outstanding Linebacker Award and earned first-team, all-league honors on defense. He registered 97 tackles, one sack and a fumble recovery.

"Cruz was the best I ever coached," Johnson said. "I can see Hadon already has some of those instincts. The way he's picked up on the speed of the game is something you can't teach. He has a very good nose for the ball. He's very coachable. When he gets some technique issues figured out, he'll be pretty darn good."

"I don't really think about stuff like that," Lopez said. "I just go in there and do my job."

Hadon doesn't pattern his game after any particular player.

"Not really," he said. "I like (Chicago Bears linebacker) Brian Urlacher." He's also an Oakland Raiders fan.

"They're happy for me," Lopez said when asked what his parents Jose and Gina thought about his overnight success. "All the hard work I put in at practice has paid off. It's been fun."

Hadon gives a lot of the credit to Johnson.

"He's a great coach," Lopez said. "He motivates us."

"I've known him (Hadon) for three years," Johnson said. "I taught him in the seventh grade at Mae Hensley Jr. High School. He's a very quiet, respectful kid off the field."

Lopez's season ended prematurely in a 35-0 loss to Manteca on Sept. 28 at Ceres High. Hadon took his frustration out on the concrete with his right fist on the sidelines after leaving the game late in the fourth quarter. His outburst came several minutes after getting hit below the belt by a Buffaloes player.

Lopez, who finished the game with a career-high 15 tackles, will have surgery to repair his broken pinkie.

Hadon apologized to his coaches and teammates.

"It's a tough lesson to learn, but I think it will be good for him," Johnson said. "He'll get a chance to watch. That will help him mentally."

Lopez's presence will be sorely missed.

On track to make over 100 tackles and earn all-league honors, Hadon's season ended prematurely because of his greenness.

Rest assured, he'll be prepared and won't make the same mistake in 2008. He'll be a year older and wiser when he returns to the field.

"He's a very motivated, hardworking kid," Johnson said.