HOUSTON — Roy Lopez was hungry. Months of dedication, a spartan training regimen and a strict diet all building up to one important moment: his campus Pro Day audition for NFL scouts.
The future Houston Texans starting defensive tackle looked the part at a much leaner 6-foot-2, 318 pounds after nearly five months of dedication to his healthy diet. He tackled the University of Arizona workout like a champion, bench pressing 225 pounds 36 times and posting an explosive 31-inch vertical leap.
Afterward, Lopez ate like a champion with his father and agent, Evan Brennan. His meal of choice: In-N-Out Burger.
“It was the cheat meal for Pro Day,” Lopez said. “You get done with the season, you go start getting prepared for Pro Day. You try to get as lean as possible, as fast as possible. You get your body fat down and you have to look good on stage. You have to look good in front of all the scouts and stuff like that. Actually, the first meal I had after was In-N-Out. I don’t know why, but I did. It was amazing. It was fantastic.”
The Texans wound up drafting Lopez in the sixth round and they’re happy they did.
Lopez earned a starting job when veteran Vincent Taylor injured his ankle in the season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, undergoing surgery and being placed on injured reserve. The rookie has started the past two games and has one tackle. His primary job: clogging up the middle of the Texans’ defense to allow linebackers Zach Cunningham and Christian Kirksey to run free to the football.
“We’ve only been three weeks into the season, but playing and transitioning with the group of guys that I’m a part of, they made it easy,” Lopez said. “The vets in our room are very professional. They teach me on and off the field how to take care of your body and make sure that you’re ready to go every single day, whether it’s practice, in a game, just watching film. We definitely put a lot of time in with each other that goes behind the scenes, so it’s been great.”
Lopez doesn’t only count on the advice of his older teammates and defensive line coach Bobby King.
He gets plenty of counsel, sometimes more than he can handle, from his father: former Arizona High School Football Coach of the Year, Roy Lopez Jr.
It’s a lot to absorb, but he listens to his dad, who offers a lot of tips based on his film study of the Texans’ games.
“I have to tell him to watch his own team,” Lopez said with a laugh. “ He’ll call me and tell me something about my film, and I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ He’ll have his film up right in front of him on a laptop, and I was like, ‘Why are you even thinking about my tape?’ He was like, ‘Well, it was just on my mind. I see this guy getting reached (blocked), and I can’t let you get reached, so I’ve got to call you. It’s on my mind,’
“I’m like, ‘Man, bro, just relax. Just worry about your team, plays on Friday.’ I’m very fortunate to have my dad be like that and put in the extra time and effort and continue to do it. Even though I reached this level, he still talks to me like he’s my position coach. He’s very into my games, he loves every second of it. Yeah, I’m thankful.”
Throughout his childhood, Lopez was at his father’s side on a football field, learning the game from the ground up.
“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. 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. He had 137 tackles, 20 for losses, during his New Mexico State football career.
Lopez Jr., took a red-eye flight from Arizona to Green Bay to watch his son’s first NFL preseason game against the Packers at Lambeau Field.
“Roy is in a good place,” Lopez Jr. said. “I just pray for the best so he can keep taking people’s hearts and souls.”
Thankful for his teammates and family’s support, Lopez is grateful for how the Latino community has wrapped its arms around him since he arrived in Houston. That kind of support has provided an emotional touchstone for Lopez.
“They’ve embraced me since the moment I got drafted,” Lopez said. “So when I got the call and it was Houston, Texas, I was like, ‘Man, that’s great.’ I loved it and it’s been awesome. Something that kind of goes full circle is in the football world, being a Latino is not very impressive, or shiny, I guess you could say. Nobody is going to say, ‘Let me go find a Latino three-technique or a nose guard.’ I just so happened to come from that background, and I love it.
“I’ve always known that I was a select few for the Latino defensive linemen, and I kind of just ran with it. You ask my old college teammates at New Mexico State, it’s the same thing that I was doing here. I would make dinner for them and they would eat it up, and all that stuff. They just love it. I like to bring that. I like to bring my big, loving family into the locker room with my expressions. Being able to receive love for it is pretty cool. It’s humbling. It’s something that I look forward to keep growing.”
Lopez has a smooth salsa dance celebration he broke out during the preseason after sacks. He has yet to hit the quarterback, though, during the regular season.
“I haven’t been able to do it in the season, so I kind of figured people forgot about it,” Lopez said. “Nah, it’s just something that I like to do. I like to connect with the fans and I know the fans like it. Being from a Latino background, it’s big, and I like to express it. My teammates know I like to express it. We always talk about it.
“Definitely trying to get some dinner made up for the D-line and bring some culture into the locker room and keep teaching everybody. We’re a big culture of love. My family’s a big family and we all love each other. I try to express it through my style of play, and I figured what better way than a celebration dance?”
Lopez’s relationship with his parents instilled a strong work ethic in him, and his father taught him a passion for the game.
Lopez provides a stout, blue-collar presence in the middle of the Texans’ defense.
Lopez had a 113-3 wrestling record at Mesquite High School in Tempe where he was named Arizona Defensive Lineman of the Year.
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, routinely penetrating the backfield and hardly ever getting shoved around.
Lopez frequently discusses wrestling and who’s the best with teammates, including center Justin Britt: a former Missouri state high school wrestling champion.
“We talk about wrestling, but as of the season, we can’t do nothing about it,” Lopez said. “We joke about it, we have a good time. Everybody keeps saying there’s like four or five wrestlers on the team, and if you ask all of us, everybody’s going to say we’d win the match. That’s just the pride in us talking.”
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.
Now, Lopez has set his sights on containing athletic Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen heading into a challenging road game.
“Josh Allen’s an incredible talent,” Lopez said. “That’s why people know he’s Josh Allen. I remember watching him in college and watching him in the NFL now. He holds himself to a high standard, and he should. He’s a great player. He’s very athletic, he can throw a good ball, he’s confident and Buffalo loves him.”
Signed to a four-year contract worth $3.881 million, including a $182,844 signing bonus, Lopez has a lot of strength working in his favor.
“Really strong,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio said when he drafted Lopez. “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 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.”