A day of firsts is what Cesar Chavez longs for.
The senior from Rosemead High School is on the brink of becoming the first player in his family to win a CIF championship but more importantly the first to attend a four-year college.
The Panthers have muscled their way throughout the season and on Saturday night play Paraclete in the CIF-Southern Section Mid-Valley Division championship game.
But it's Rosemead's unmatched intensity and physicality on defense that has it one win away from glory.
And at the center of the commotion is Chavez, the senior linebacker who relishes little else than punishing defenders with brutal force.
One glance at Chavez and opponents mistakenly overlook his 5-foot-8, 170-pound frame.
By the time they realize it, it's too late.
Chavez is the fourth leading tackler (67) on the team behind senior Gilbert De La Rosa (115), senior Tra Sumler (95) and junior Joey Diaz (77).
"That's what I like most," Chavez said, "being out there with my (defense) and bringing it every day."
All the hard work, sacrifices and long, sometimes painful hours has come to this: just one more day until some of the Panthers put on their pads one last time and try to come out on top as champions.
That he's on the championship stage at all is an accomplishment all in itself.
Chavez's upbringing didn't exactly equate to success. His father, Cesar Sr., was involved with gangs when they lived in East Los Angeles.
"But my parents wanted us to have a better life and they took us away from all that and brought us to Rosemead, to get in the right direction." Chavez said.
Chavez's older brother, Elco, 21, attended East Los Angeles College. But Chavez wants to set the foundation for what he hopes his younger brothers, Jasper, 11, and Louie, 2, will follow when they get older and be the first to attend and graduate from a four-year college.
Chavez has sent applications to some Cal State schools and soon will take his SAT's for admission. Where he's accepted won't matter.
"I just want a chance to get into school and earn my college degree," said Chavez, who wants to be a firefighter or own his own business.
The stats on the field aren't what Chavez is most proud of; he proudly talks about his "B" average.
"When I was younger I was a bit of a troublemaker," he said, "but when I came over to (Rosemead) I calmed down and have always had good grades. I'm glad my parents brought us here; their hard work has been a benefit to us."
Chavez wonders sometimes where he'd be if his parents hadn't moved from East Los Angeles, a place where they had ties his parents didn't want Chavez to associate with.
The move has paid dividends.
Chavez is a three-year starter and became an integral part of the Panthers' success this season.
He earned first-team All-Mission Valley League honors on defense and will help a resilient Rosemead defense try to bring the school a CIF football title for the first time in 26 years.
His older cousin, Arturo Garcia, played linebacker last season but the Panthers fell short, losing in the first round.
But there was a different feel to this season even before it began.
"It feels like it was destiny," Chavez said. "It was meant to be and I'm happy all the work has paid off so far to the last game and that we can possibly be champions.
"Since we started in Day 1, the coaches came fired up so we knew what could happen. It's almost like the stars were aligned; it's our time."
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