VAN NUYS – Canoga Park boys soccer coach Jake Gwin watched his team prepare for Wednesday afternoon’s match against Fulton Prep. The team locked arms, with hands wrapped around each others shoulders, formed a circled and all dropped to one knee in prayer.

The players were heavy hearted after teammate Luis Perez, 16, and his brother Cesar, 19, died early Sunday morning in a fatal car crash in Winnetka. The brothers were passengers in a truck that was traveling at high speeds before hitting two parked cars.

“Telling Jake (Gwin) the news was so hard,” Canoga Park athletic director Lori Giacopuzzi said. “He had a hard time comprehending it. I had to tell him three times over.”

The school held a memorial Monday where students made posters, left flowers and prayed in groups. The soccer team was scheduled to play Monday, but match was called off.

“It was too much,” said Giacopuzzi.

However, on Tuesday, the team faced Westlake High and that’s when the dedication to Luis and Cesar began.

“We are dedicating the season (Luis and Cesar),” teammate Cristian Hernandez said. “We’re going to play our hardest and enforce our will. We know he would want us to win…we feel like he’s still on the field with us.”

The Hunters came from behind to beat Westlake 4-3. Perez was a promising sophomore forward poised to have a great season.

“He was a strong player with a great left foot,” Hernandez said. “He was a good friend.”

Gwin said of Perez: “He was a player capable of scoring 15 to 20 goals in a season.”

Perez played varsity soccer as a freshman.

“I’ll never forget when Luis got his teeth knocked out one game. He later got his teeth fixed, and his smile was brand new,” Gwin said laughing. “He was always smiling after that. He had a beautiful spirit.”

Cesar didn’t play soccer, but graduated from Canoga Park last year. He was going to school at Pierce College and worked to help the family.

“I had Cesar in my biology class,” Giacopuzzi said. “He was a happy, fun kid.”

It’s not the first time the program has encountered tragedy like this. Gwin, who’s entering his 20th season as the head coach, had a former player, Edwin Alvarado, die suddenly in the summer of 2016, shortly after Alvardao graduated from Canoga Park.

“It’s a sad occurrence,” said Gwin. “It gives the team something to play for. We tap into that to channel their focus.”

Canoga Park beat Fulton Prep 3-1 Wednesday. Another win closer to the team’s goal.

“We want to win a City title for Luis and Cesar,” sophomore Gustavo Farias said.

The 20-year-old driver, who was allegedly under the influence, is facing a felony charge that could send him to prison for as many as 11 years if he’s convicted, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday.

To help the Perez family contribute to the GoFundMe page.

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