Joao Lopez grew up playing soccer like most kids in Santa Catarina, Brazil. However, a year and a half ago he came to America and fell in love with a sport that he never considered playing.
Wanting to play sports and get a good education, Lopez moved to Jackson, Tenn. to live with his cousin Natalie right before his sophomore year. He realized the move was necessary even if it meant living thousands of miles away from his parents.
“I always wanted to be a soccer player growing up, but in Brazil if you want to do that then you have to stop studying,” said Lopez, whose first named is pronounced “Zwau.” “My dad always wanted me to never stop with education so when Natalie invited me to live with her in Jackson so I could continue with school and playing sports, I really liked the idea.”
Then came football.
It started with Lopez going to Trinity Christian Academy (Jackson, Tenn.) home games during his sophomore year. There was just something about the game that drew him.
Lopez had never even touched a football. He was ready for that to change.
“I went to all of the home games (in 2017) and I just thought it was so cool,” Lopez said. “We don’t have football in Brazil so it was different. I ended up being really good friends with Noah Holsinger, who was the kicker … and he told me that I needed to be the kicker and I had a future at that spot.”
Lopez’s first kick of the 2018 season was a touchback and from there he just took off.
He recorded 12 touchbacks and connected on 24 of 28 extra point attempts. When it came to field goals he was also reliable, connecting on 5 of 7 with a long of 41 yards.
“My first kick of the year was a touchback against Jackson Christian and I was so hyped,” Lopez said. “It was like I was scoring a goal in soccer. I loved it.”
While Lopez had fun kicking for the football team, he knew it would be a learning curve, as did the rest of the team.
“He’s still learning some of the rules and it’s funny because he’s the first kicker I’ve ever had that has gotten a false start called on him during an extra point,” TCA football coach Blake Butler said. “You can’t assume anything with him just because he’s so new to football in terms of teaching him the game, but he did a great job for us this year. He was reliable and that’s all we could ask for.”
While he has fallen in love with football, the desire to play soccer is still there. He leads TCA this season with six goals and is always around the ball.
“He’s been fantastic for us and has a prior knowledge of the game,” TCA soccer coach Chris Baker said. “His experience is really flowing through the team.”
Lopez attended junior day camps for football at Austin Peay and Samford. He said he would like to play football or soccer in college.
“I just love it and I love being here,” Lopez said. “I’ve been to some junior camps and I’m just ready to get back out there. Whether it’s football or soccer, I have to keep working to get better.
“I think big things will come.”