Former high school student Marana, AU football player Christian Lopez remembers as a leader, a fighter | national
Sergio Lopez would like it to be known that his son has not lost his battle with cancer.
The decision was made this week to disconnect the oxygen that was helping to keep Christian Lopez, a former lineman at Marana High School and the University of Arizona, alive. His family determined that he had suffered enough.
So it was Tuesday afternoon that 24-year-old Christian died after a fight of more than three years with a type of cancerous brain tumor known as glioblastoma. Christian’s family – parents Sergio and Dora and his brother Diego – were by his side at Banner-University Medical Center. One of his favorite songs, “O Come to the Altar” by Elevation Worship, played in the background as Christian breathed his last around 4:30 pm.
âHe was so calm about it, so strong,â Sergio Lopez said. âThe nurse was crying. It was very moving. They’re not used to seeing a 24 year old (die) like that. I said, ‘Don’t be sad. He’s going to a better place. ‘”
Christian Lopez was a notable two-way lineman at Marana High School who joined the UA program in 2015 as a preferred substitute under the guidance of Rich Rodriguez.
Former Tigers coach Andy Litten gives Lopez credit for helping change the culture in Marana.
The year before Litten became Marana’s coach – 2011, Lopez’s freshman year – the Tigers went 0-10. They never finished above .500 the next three seasons, when Lopez was a key starter. But he did help lay the groundwork for teams that would go 9-3 in the 2016 and 2017 campaigns.
âIt’s been huge in terms of creating the culture that has really helped transform this program,â said Litten, who is now a coach at Scottsdale Horizon High School. âHe was just a great guy. He was fierce, tough. Off the pitch he cared about his teammates. He made the others better. I don’t know if we would have been a game-changer without the leadership he has. provided.”
Lopez’s teammates elected him captain when he was a senior. He received the most votes of any player Litten has ever coached.
Litten recalled that Lopez took time over lunch to give math lessons to his teammates. He taught them geometry on the same whiteboard in the locker room where the coaches wrote the pieces.
âHe realized the kids needed help,â Litten said. “He would do whatever it took, whatever we needed. He was one of those guys who was never afraid of work.”
This also applied to the weight room. Sergio Lopez said whenever a trainer asked him if he wanted to do more reps or more weight, he always said “both”.
Christian Lopez spent about a year and a half with the UA football team. In the fall of 2018, he started having seizures. An MRI revealed a tumor the size of an orange. He had surgery to remove it and appeared to be fine for a while. But at the end of 2020, the tumor started to grow again.
Lopez underwent another surgery last January, but his condition worsened. He had no more than 16 months to live.
âNobody knows what causes these tumors, especially at this age,â his father said. “Everyone has their own hypothesis.”
Sergio Lopez became Christian’s primary caregiver in the last year or so of his life, and the two grew closer to each other. Christian also embraced Christianity to an extent he had never known before.
As Christian Lopez’s pain increased and his health declined, the family had to make a call.
âI didn’t expect to have to plan for the day he was going to die,â Sergio said. âIt’s not something I want someone to go through.
“I had to ask God every day to give me clarity. You are always going to be (second-) guessing.”
The family was able to spend Christmas together. Diego, 21, spent every night in the hospital with his brother during his final weeks.
âHe was very strong. He never wanted to give up,â Sergio said. “I told him about ‘Rocky IV’, how Rocky should have thrown in the towel. He said ‘No I’m not going to do that.'”
âIt’s my job,â his father replied. “To protect you.”
The Lopez family launched a GoFundMe page to help pay for Christian’s funeral and memorial. He had more than tripled his goal of $ 5,000 at the start of the weekend.
A memorial service is scheduled for January 22.
Contact sports reporter Michael Lev at 573-4148 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @michaeljlev