If you’re lucky and smart, you pay attention to the lessons life presents, climbing the learning curve and eventually getting the chance to bring experience to bear on future situations.
For Mark Lozano, incorporating the travels he’s made is a way of life, and as the former college football star has transitioned into life after an active playing career, he is illustrating how it’s done.
The Alamo Parks and Recreation director for the past five years, Lozano has made a name for himself in the Valley as a purveyor of sports camps for kids. He’s using all the things he got from a great series of coaches during his career, taking the advice he heard and skills he was taught, and giving local youths the opportunity to copy his trajectory through the years.
His latest venture is a full-contact offense-defense skills camp to be held in June, a star-studded affair that will be put on with the help of several former NFL players, including Dallas Cowboys ex George Teague. The plan is to entice kids around the area to come out and get some hands-on training from the best of the best, and the long-term goal is to increase the number of Valley football players getting the chance to continue their careers in college.
“It’s all about technique, because the way you do things on the football field matters just as much as strength and speed,” says the former Edinburg Bobcat lineman (class of 1982) who played at TCU and then Southeast Missouri State. “Sometimes the kids down here don’t match up that well in terms of raw strength and speed, but they can make it to the next level with better mechanics, and that’s what they will learn at our events. We just have to believe we can make it, and put in the work it takes to make to happen.”
Lozano, whose younger brother, James, was also a college lineman, insists that if kids can learn the proper steps and moves at an early age, they soon find out that the rest will take care of itself.
“Now, you obviously need a certain level of strength and speed to go from high school to college,” he stressed. “But by getting proper instruction in the finer points of technique, kids soon develop muscle memory through repetition, the earlier the better, so that they can be able to get scholarships.”
He’s a guy kids need to listen to, given his playing resume. But Lozano has also been a coach for the arena league Dorados the past two seasons and a mentor with various sub-high school-level operations, so when he talks about offensive line play, one would be well advised to lend an ear.
“A guy with sound mechanics on the line doesn’t have to be a monster, he can easily do the things he needs to do to be successful on the line,” Lozano promised. “Heck, sometimes you don’t have to knock the defensive man down, you can get in his way, shield him out of the play, and ironically use his strength and speed against him.”
Last year the Dorados were among the league best in protecting the quarterback, with former McAllen and Duke University Garrett Mason on the job. But the Valley team’s line was relatively small in places, and so technique and sharp skills made all the difference.
“Leverage, stability, footwork, these are the elements that make a good lineman even better,” Lozano explained. “Pass protection isn’t about brute force, it’s a chess game where the man can use all his abilities to keep the pocket. And with the advent of the spread these days, drive-blocking, and being huge and strong, they don’t matter as much as the first punch and the movement. And that all comes back to technique.”
Which all goes back to the series of camps the Alamo Parks and Rec has put on the past five years. The latest one is June 28-30, and for $395, players from age 8 to 18 can go through three afternoons of two-a-days, learning the ropes from former professionals who now are focusing on teaching as a life’s work.
“I am excited about the camps we have this year, heck, I’m always excited!” Lozano exclaimed. “There are some kids in the Valley who have the potential to make it to the next level, but some of them have never been exposed to the kind of skills training we offer. And that’s not a knock on their high school or junior high coaches, it’s just to say that we have assembled a group of pros who know what they’re doing, and they are willing to come down here to spend the time to teach.”
He’s traveled around the state and beyond learning how to run such events, and now takes local athletes with him, sending them into skills competitions and training sessions in Dallas, Houston and other big cities. Lozano thinks that with the exposure to upstate football, promising Valley athletes will begin to make the jump into NCAA football more often in the future.
“I’ve seen a bunch of guys upstate who were big and fast but that didn’t have much mechanics, and they can be beaten,” he said. “We have to take advantage of opportunities like the camp this summer to maximize the skills packages we have, improve on them, and get noticed by colleges upstate. That’s what it’s all about. The more kids we take to out-of-Valley events, the more coaches will see that we have some serious talent in our area that is just waiting to be recruited.”
There have been the Masons and guys like Mario Benavidez in recent history, locals that have made the grade in college. The latter is now playing college ball along with Los Fresnos teammate Eloy Atkinson; they are both linemen. Bradley Stephens and Mishak Rivas have become valuable contributors at Texas A&M and Texas State, respectively. The door is open is for Valley athletes, and Lozano is here to facilitate their transition to the big time.
“I had some great coaches when I played, like Richard Flores at Edinburg High,” said the teaching enthusiast, who comes from good stock, as his father Joe was an all-star athlete at St. Joseph Academy in Brownsville in the late 1950s and has been a noted coach and bird-dog scout across the Valley for decades. “So now I want to provide the same sort of leadership to the kids I coach.
“You have to be able to give back, and doing it with something I love makes me proud. Football is my life, my wife says that it will be easy to find my grave at the cemetery when I die, because it will be shaped like a football.”
For more info on upcoming football camps, call Mark Lozano at 309-3394.