Cross Country Running Smoothly

Brandon Hensley

It would be difficult to say Eddie Lopez not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk.

Because he doesn’t.

Not when he’s the head of an athletic program that wins conference and state championships so routinely it makes Roger Federer look like he’s struggling. Not when he’s able to reload each year with top recruits that could make USC football blush.

No, it would be a surprise to find out Lopez walks anywhere. His success comes from running.

“You’re either a leader, a follower, or you get out of the way,” he said.

Now in his 22nd year as coach at Glendale, it’s that kind of mind set that has helped guide Lopez and his cross country teams to almost unparalleled success within the Vaqueros athletic department.

The men have won the Western State Conference 16 of the last 23 years. The women have won their last four conference titles, including a state championship in 2007. During his tenure, Lopez has won a combined 17 Coach of the Year honors.

As far as where both teams are placed currently on the new season, well, is that a serious question? They are first in conference, the men third in the Southern California rankings, the women second. Yeah, big surprise.

The success of the program didn’t start with Lopez, but it’s clear now he sets the pace.
“I grew up in a family of runners . so I’ve been exposed to running all my life. That’s all I know.”

Lopez graduated from Hollywood High, and started running for Glendale in 1978 under the guidance of Coach Tom McMurray. They won conference that year and again in ’79.

“I came here, and I found out we train at a different level, race at a different level, and I fell in love with Glendale College.”
After college, he coached at the high school level before returning to Glendale in 1987, where he took over as cross country coach and was an assistant track
coach. Today, he is in charge of both programs. Lopez said the family atmosphere, which is echoed by many on campus, is what drew him back and what also keeps him here.

“I realize I love it here and I can make more of a difference for the kids. Develop them, have some input, and make sure they get their education. And that’s so rewarding, when they invite you to their graduation,” he said.

That sounds nice and sweet, but the competitive side of Lopez in practice is what develops his runners, providing them with a true test of physical and emotional grit.

“It’s very tough. Very different compared to high school,” said sophomore Rosa Del Toro of the workouts. Del Toro’s Birmingham High team was ranked second in the city her senior year, but here, “It’s more intense. Everything’s different.”

Men’s sophomore team captain Frankie Quijado agreed. “I remember coming in as a freshman, everything was difficult. I was coming off a program that was running 40 miles a week,” he said of his alma mater, Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet in East L.A.

Here, Lopez has them running over 70 miles a week.

Mondays, the teams work out in intervals, including one mile repeats four times. Longer running days include eight to 10 miles, and on Sundays, which is supposedly a day of rest, they run 14 to 16 miles.

There’s also the cool down runs after practice, which consist of three to five miles. It’s enough to leave the average person out of breath just hearing about it.

Quijado remembers what assistant coach David Rodriguez said when he recruited him. “He said, ‘Here at Glendale we have tradition, and we have our good runners and a good program. You will develop stronger as a runner.'”

Ask Quijado if in fact that has happened to him and he’ll only laugh as if to say, are you kidding me? Of course it has.

“It’s not for all the kids,” said Lopez. We tell them, “‘This is what it takes.’ So basically, when we recruit, we try to recruit the kids that want to do the extra miles.”

Lopez also loves to motivate, and Del Toro is a believer in the system. “He loves motivating the team. It helps me a lot. I know that for a fact,” she said.

Count former football coach and current Athletic Director John Cicuto as a fan as well. “I never really went to a cross country [meet] until after I became the athletic director . but I tell you what, they’re really exciting to watch.”

When Cicuto was football coach, he and Lopez were working out their teams at the same time one day. It became apparent right then to Cicuto what the cross country program is all about.

“For me to see how Eddie and David Rodriguez were coaching these athletes was incredible. I’m talking about the intensity and the demands that they put on our athletes is the reason why I think we are successful,” he said.

Bryan Ramos ran for Glendale in the mid-1990s, and won a state title in 1995. Now as an assistant coach for Lopez, he repeats the same lessons one must learn that made his team great.

“Once you’re on the track or on the road, you have to be ready. You have to get your mind set. That’s what it takes to be a good athlete,” he said.

“It’s the Glendale way,” said Lopez. “It’s what I was taught by Coach McMurray.”

This is not to make Lopez out as some charioteer who rules with a whip on the track. He runs with the teams during practice, acting as both as an empathizer and sympathizer.

“To feel the pain of what they go through, it gives you the sense of where they are physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. For me I can gauge if they’re tired or not. I’m always asking that, always communicating,” he said.

Now, it’s full speed ahead for the rest of the season, where the Vaqueros hope to emerge victorious in the Southern California and state championships in November.
After practice last week in the scorching heat, Lopez left the track and headed up the stairs, following a path back to the athletic department. He did this.while walking?

Lopez turned around and said with a smile, “I walk fast.”

As long as he’s setting the pace, it doesn’t really matter.