PJ strength coach, teacher Joe Lopez's hard work leads to Gatorade Summit invite

Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School

SPARTA — If there is one lesson Joe Lopez has tried to teach any student or athlete at Pope John XXIII Regional High School, it is the following adage:

Hard work pays off.

“If you work hard,” Lopez said, “you are more often than not going to be at an advantage at the end of the day.”

Lopez lives out this philosophy in everything he does for Pope John as a health and physical education teacher and the school’s head strength and conditioning coach for all 29 athletic teams.

Lopez’s work here, along with the effort he put into to become the New Jersey State Director for the National Strength and Conditioning Association, has earned him an invitation to this weekend’s inaugural Gatorade High School Practitioner Summit at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Lopez was one of only 20 head strength coaches from across the country invited to the exclusive two-day summit, which offers an opportunity for strength coaches, athletic trainers, head coaches and registered dieticians to discuss current issues in the field and work with Gatorade to help advance it.

“It’s pretty cool,” Lopez said. “Gatorade has made a push to get involved in high school athletics. I’m excited to be invited, get a chance to talk shop with colleagues, learn from people in the industry and show them what’s been happening here at Pope John.”

Lopez received this opportunity to participate in the summit because of his experience over the years.

Lopez has been involved with athletics all his life as a three-sport athlete Bayley-Ellard High School and a baseball player at Lynchburg College. During his time at Lynchburg, Lopez said he wanted to be a baseball coach, but “got into working out” while studying there.

As a result, he went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Science in 2003. A few months later, Pope John hired Lopez as a teacher and assistant baseball coach.

While doubling as a teacher and a coach, Lopez also earned his credentials to become a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and began his career as a sports performance coach in the private sector. Lopez’s work as a sports performance coach eventually led to him becoming a New Jersey State Advisory Board Member of the NSCA in 2013.

Two years later, Lopez became the New Jersey State Director of the NSCA and the Department Chair for Pope John’s health and physical education department — two roles in which he currently serves. In 2016, he became the school’s head strength and conditioning coach, and he has thrived while transforming the way each of the Lions’ athletic teams prepares for the grind of its respective sports.

Lopez said it was a long road to get to where he is, but felt he couldn’t have done it without having that hard-work-pays-off mentality.

“When I first started out, I didn’t have much of a name in the industry, so I had to create my own identity,” Lopez said. “I went to workshops, I networked with others whom I looked up to and respected. … I just kept trying to improve myself. I showed up and worked every day.”

This message is something that Lopez has tried to preach to the 800-plus students currently enrolled at Pope John, whether in the classroom, in the brand-new Coach Paternostro Training Center, or on the field of play. He said there are differences with working with athletes at a high school versus those who privately work out, but the message is still the same and he is open to sharing that advice when he is at the summit.

“If you keep showing up and working hard, the others will quit or get tired,” Lopez said. “You’ll eventually get where you want to be.”

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