Micah Lopez smiles after signing a letter of intent to Washington State University at PSJA North gymnasium on Friday, May, 21,2021 in Pharr. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor | dlopez@themonitor.con)

PHARR — PSJA North’s Micah Lopez made an immediate impact on the gridiron.

The Raiders star linebacker became an invaluable component to PSJA North’s Blackshirt Defense during a three-year varsity career as one of the Rio Grande Valley’s grittiest defenders.

Lopez tallied 327 career tackles, including two seasons with 100 or more, 15 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks while becoming the Raiders’ defensive captain and locker room leader.

That translated into the senior’s signing a preferred walk-on offer to play college football at Washington State on Friday, becoming North’s first Division I football signee and solidifying a life-long dream to play on Saturdays.

“It’s unbelievable,” Lopez said. “I’ve always dreamt of signing to a big-time college football program since I was a little kid watching all those weekends with my dad. To do that now is unbelievable and really a dream come true.”

“Nobody deserves this opportunity more than he does,” PSJA North head coach Marcus Kaufmann said. “This is our first player to actually sign (DI) that way, so it’s a pretty good deal. That’s kind of a feather in our cap here at North.”

Lopez becomes the Valley’s first Pac-12 football commit since 2016 and Friday’s signing made him the third Raiders defender to take their talents to the college level.

He joins former PSJA North defensive standouts in defensive end Aaron Alvarez and defensive back Seven Sanchez (Texas A&M-Kingsville) at representing the program collegiately.

The trio each tallied 100-tackle seasons individually in their final season playing together in 2019, which Lopez attributes to the ‘Blackshirt Defense’ mentality that was instilled in them during the first practices together at PSJA North.

Micah Lopez gets a hug from PSJA North football coach Marcus Kaufmann after signing a letter of intent to Washington State University at PSJA North gymnasium on Friday, May, 21,2021 in Pharr. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor | dlopez@themonitor.con)

“I’ll remember the brotherhood we formed here and the lessons I learned here from Coach (Will) Littleton the way he taught us the Blackshirt Mentality,” Lopez said. “I’m going to carry that through life by never being scared. When your back is against the wall, you have to keep fighting. I’m going to take that with me to college and knowing I’ll have that to lean on is great.”

Lopez guided a young Raiders’ squad through a turbulent 2020 season that featured a delayed start, condensed schedule and canceled games.

In six games for North as a senior, Lopez led the team with 67 tackles and seven tackles for loss during a six-game season.

His leadership under pressure and keen eye on the field helped the Raiders pitch four second-half defensive shutouts, most notably in a 22-point comeback victory at Brownsville Hanna in the bi-district round of the Class 6A DII playoffs.

“Mental preparation is big from knowing the offensive formations and studying film every week, it really prepares you to know what’s coming Friday nights,” Lopez said. “There’s also a lot of physically preparing by hitting the weight room and conditioning. Those two come in hand in hand to make you a good player.”

“He did such a good job of having an even keel at all times,” Kaufmann said. “Even with his coaches, he would say, ‘I saw this, so let’s try this,’ and we would make a move based on what he just told us and those little bits of information. He was like having another coach out there in the locker room and on the field.”

Lopez finished his senior campaign with a spot on the Texas Sports Writers Association’s Class 6A Honorable Mention All-State team to cap off one of the most decorated defensive careers in school history.

He heads to Pullman, Washington, this summer aiming to make a splash at the DI level and help pave the way for future football players from Pharr.

“I want to make the entire 956 proud of me,” Lopez said. “I just need to prove myself day in and day out and show these coaches that it wasn’t a bad decision to give me a spot on this team. I need to continue to work and keep grinding because I want to be a player in Pullman.”

Email: amcculloch@themonitor.com

Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch