Falah takes his own path

USC-bound offensive lineman Nico Falah is the rare elite football recruit with Colombian heritage. Blair Angulo/WeAreSC.com

BELLFLOWER, Calif. -- Nico Falah doesn't speak Spanish. He has taken a few courses in an attempt to learn the language, but he isn't close to being fluent. Sometimes, his Colombian grandparents speak to each other, and Falah wishes he could understand.

What he does comprehend, though, is the importance of his Hispanic heritage, especially in an area overflowing with people of various cultural backgrounds.

Falah has committed to play football at USC -- which sits a couple of miles south of downtown Los Angeles -- and he knows how meaningful his own story could be to others.

It is uncommon to find a player with Colombian and Filipino roots in college football. That alone is a motivating factor for Falah, whose father is Colombian and mother is Filipino.

In the Los Angeles sports landscape, the Trojans take a backseat only to the Lakers and Dodgers. A few years back, when Mark Sanchez was slinging the pigskin up and down the field for USC, Mexican flags were a common sight at the Memorial Coliseum. It never takes long for an athlete of Hispanic descent to become a fan favorite here.

"Hopefully, fans will know me and support me," Falah said. "I want to show that anybody can play."

Falah tried soccer in his youth but didn't like it much. He played basketball, too, and loved every part of it. It was his passion until three years ago when, as a freshman at Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco, he decided to give football a try.

"It's funny," said Nico's father, Manzur. "Nico didn't even know how to put pads on."

Now, Falah is the state's only offensive lineman with a coveted USC scholarship offer, and it might not have ever happened had he stayed inside the gym. Falah, who said he is the only Colombian-Filipino football player he knows, had a strong freshman season playing basketball at Bosco. But then he realized there aren't many 6-foot-4 power forwards playing in college.

It was the turning point, really.

"His love had always been basketball," Manzur said. "This is a kid that never had aspirations of playing football at the high school level, let alone at the college level. To us, that's icing on the cake. The goal for us was that football would give him the ability to get a quality college education. Whatever happens after that is icing on the cake."

The quick-feet drills that Falah refined on the hardwood eased his transition to football. The whole process -- bursting onto the recruiting scene, the national attention, the scholarship offers -- was surprising to his family.

Five years ago, Falah took a three-week vacation to Colombia, visiting big cities like Cali and Medellin. It was his first trip there, and he met family members he had never known. It was the first exposure to his cultural roots. Since then, Falah has had trouble helping cousins distinguish football from fĂștbol.

That's because American football is as prevalent in South America as Hispanic culture is in the NFL.

Falah is on a mission to change that.

"It would be big," Falah said. "Me making it to the NFL would mean a lot to Colombians and Filipinos. I'm still working my way up. Hopefully that dream comes true."