Wapato's Juan Alvarado is pictured on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019 at the Yakima Herald-Republic in Yakima, Wash. 

Football’s never been a top priority for Juan Alvarado’s family or many young athletes in Wapato.

He’s occasionally missed practice due to other obligations, usually hanging drywall with his father. But whenever the senior offensive lineman can find time to focus on football, he’s working hard to make himself and teammates better.

“Last year I didn’t really talk to the team that much because I was a little bit shy,” Alvarado said. “This year I’m going to try to take a role as a captain and tell the guys if we’re doing bad to pick it up.”

Plenty of time in the weight room over the summer helped Alvarado go from 170 pounds to 190. He’s watching what he eats and running in the mornings, all while working full-time hours in construction.

Those efforts haven’t gone unnoticed by Wapato coach Skip Gurtler, who could hardly be more impressed by Alvarado’s growth as a player and as a person. Gurtler also coaches the Wolves’ baseball team and said in both sports Alvarado stands out as a model student-athlete.

“He’s just doing those little things that a lot of guys aren’t willing to do,” Gurtler said. “A lot of guys nowadays, they just want to show up and play.”

Teammates are drawn to Alvarado’s friendly leadership, and he’s a key piece of the recruiting efforts for a struggling program. Numbers continue to be an issue, so Alvarado encourages everyone he knows to come try out.

Still, he’ll be needed on virtually every play, though Alvarado said he usually gets to rest on kickoffs. Most of the time, he’s going up against bigger opponents as an offensive guard and defensive end.

“After the game I’d just be dead,” Alvarado said. “I’d sit in the locker room and just be dying.”

This fall Gurtler wants to give Alvarado a more visible role in the offense as a tight end, offering a chance to show off his good hands and athleticism. He’s eager to take over for first-team all-CWAC tight end Naujae Pineda and help out the team in any way possible.

It’s been an easy adjustment so far for Alvarado, a 3.5 student who knows the plays well enough to teach them to younger players. Gurtler expects Alvarado to continue wreaking havoc with his quickness at defensive end, and there’s no doubt he’ll put in the time required to be at his best.

“I think you can try and teach work ethic, but ultimately it’s something that has to be intrinsic,” Gurtler said, noting Alvarado gets strong support from his family. “He’s just one of those kids that you wish you had 10 of.”

Reach Luke Thompson at luthompson@yakimaherald.com and on Twitter: @luketscribe