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WHEN ERIK JULIO FIRST STEPPED ONTO THE NORTHBROOK HIGH SCHOOL CAMPUS AS A FRESHMAN, POWERLIFTING WASN’T FIRST ON HIS SPORTS LIST.
It was football. But it ended up not being a fit for Julio.
So, he pivoted and got involved with the powerlifting program in its first season of existence. What he found was a sport that didn’t care about how big or fast you are. It is just about brute strength.
“In powerlifting everyone accepts each other,” Julio said. “Everyone supports each other no matter what. That’s what I started liking about powerlifting, because it was a better community for me.”
Julio’s work for the past three years in powerlifting came to fruition this spring when he stepped into the gym for the Texas High School Powerlifting Association Region 4 Division I Regional Championship in March.
The Northbrook senior, who had made it to Regionals the year before, stepped up big. He squatted 405 pounds, bench pressed 185 pounds and deadlifted 405 pounds, giving him a total weight of 995 pounds. That number in his 123-pound division garnered him the Regional Championship and a trip to the THSPA State Meet.
“I went to Regionals last year and couldn’t get close to the other guys because it was competitive,” Julio said. “But I focused on improving every day and I got to the point to win the Regional Championship, which was a good accomplishment.”
Northbrook powerlifting co-head coach Matt Corwin added: “It was great knowing how hard he works. Anyone who has ever been in the weight room after school knows how hard he works in here, sweating and not complaining. He’s in here for hours after school making sure he hits his numbers. He’s worked very hard for everything he’s accomplished.”
Julio advancing to the State powerlifting meet was a huge deal for the senior on a personal level but also on a school and district-wide level.
He had just become the first powerlifter from Northbrook High School to go to State – even getting a State sendoff with the drumline and cheerleaders through the school halls as he left.
“It shows that you can do the impossible and to never give up throughout the process,” Julio said. “Just keep working hard.”
At the Division I State Meet in Abilene on March 26, Julio lifted 405 in the squat, 205 in the bench press and 410 in the deadlift to give him a total of 1,020 pounds – good for an 11th place finish out of 26 competitors in the 123-pound division. The numbers that Julio posted at State were all season-bests.
With his historic season behind him, Corwin has already seen the positive effect of Julio’s year on the future of the program.
“It’s a huge deal for Northbrook as a school and for Northbrook athletics,” Corwin said. “It’s been great for the sport. I have kids every day asking me about powerlifting. How do I get in? What do I have to do? So, this is great for the future of the sport at Northbrook High School.
“The effects of Erik’s accomplishment’s this year are going to be felt for years down the road.”
Julio added: “Hopefully the powerlifting program keeps improving and gets more guys to Regionals and State.
GROWING UP, ANDRES GOMEZ LEARNED HOW TO BE COMFORTABLE WITH THE UNCOMFORTABLE.
Born in Mexico, Gomez and his family moved to Katy when he was nine years old. The first home was a one bedroom apartment for the immigrant family of five.
“I was literally uprooted from what I knew and what I was comfortable with to a new place, a new culture, a new language, new everything, without knowing it was coming,” said Gomez, now the head football coach/campus athletic coordinator at Northbrook High School. “When we first came here, us kids were told we were going on a vacation.
“My dad was over here already working for a few months because the situation was tough in Mexico, and we were told we were going to go visit him. A week later, we were getting an apartment and staying here.”
Gomez was in the fourth grade when he started school in his new country. He vividly remembers carrying a lunch bag, following everyone around, not saying a word. Eventually, they ended up in the cafeteria, but when he got to a table, Gomez realized he had left his lunch in a classroom.
He broke down crying.
Gomez had no idea how to get back to the classroom and did not speak English nearly well enough to where he could talk to anyone around him.
“It was me and my two older brothers, figuring things out together,” Gomez said of his childhood. “Now, two of the three of us have our Master’s degrees, all of us went to Texas A&M, and all of us are coaches.”
Gomez is adept at keeping a level head about things and working promptly through adverse situations. It’s that M.O. that has carried him through 18 years of coaching, including the last two years at Northbrook.
That resilience led the University Interscholastic League to recognize him as one of 15 winners for the 2021 UIL Sponsor Excellence Award.
Now in its 31st year, the award identifies “outstanding sponsors who enable students to develop and refine their extracurricular talents to the highest degree possible within the education system.” Each winner receives $1,000 and a symbolic memento from the UIL.
“I had varied experiences growing up that I feel gives me the ability to relate to different kinds of kids,” Gomez said. “I appreciate the value of being part of a team and working as hard as I can to better myself, because that’s how I grew up. I can look at every kid and see the value they bring to our program. The impact we can have on everybody that comes through our doors is how I measure success.”
Gomez’s coaching stops include Northbrook, Klein Cain, College Park, Klein Oak, and Aldine. He has helped lead six teams to the playoffs.
It was during his middle school years at West Memorial Junior High in Katy that Gomez knew he wanted to be a coach. Gomez admired Paul McStravick, his history teacher and football coach, for his demeanor, confidence, and an aura of trust and accountability.
“I told myself then that I wanted to be like him,” Gomez said. “That’s the path I wanted to choose.”
Gomez attended Katy High School and played receiver on the 1997 State Championship Tigers team. Being around legendary coaches like Mike Johnston, Don Clayton, Chris Massey, and Gary Joseph only justified his future ambitions.
“Those guys showed me what it was like to lead a program, how to do things right and to maximize effort and potential with every rep and practice,” Gomez said. “From there, that path in life just fit me.”
Gomez found his way to Northbrook for his first head coaching job. It has been an ideal pairing.
Northbrook is a school in which there is a lot of movement in population because of difficult home circumstances for students.
“They have different life experiences than others,” Gomez said. “I’ve had kids that couldn’t come to practice because they had to babysit their siblings or had to work. We had a kid who was a good athlete, great size, who left school because his family needed him to work. Kids can’t make athletics a priority all the time. They have other things going on. But we’re always going to put our best out there.”
Gomez cites incremental progress as being essential at a school like Northbrook. Every accomplishment is significant, no matter how big or small.
For instance, though the Raiders went winless in 10 games last season, there were four games in which they were within a touchdown in the fourth quarter. They lost a doubleovertime game to Spring Woods.
None of that had happened in the 2020 season.
While Northbrook is finding its way athletically, academically the Raiders compete with anyone, boasting a plethora of all-state and all-district honorees.
“This place is incredible,” Gomez said. “We have some of the most well-behaved kids I’ve ever been around. These are kids trying to do the best they can to better themselves. They don’t have the comforts some other kids have to just focus on athletics.
“But they will do anything for you, and they will maximize their potential every single time to be competitive.”