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LOS ANGELES – More than 15 years ago, the North East Lincoln Tigers youth football program was started within one of the most gang-affiliated and recurrently-violent communities in L.A.

Football and track & field programs were formed – with LAPD officers from the Community Safety Partnership Bureau offering support in the form of coaching those teams – to give underprivileged youth in the Ramona Gardens public housing development the opportunity to play organized sports but on a bigger scale, and to positively change the historically strained relationship between the police and the community of Boyle Heights.

One of the officers who has remained involved with the football program for a long period of time is Joe Quezada, currently in his 12th season. His work as head coach of what is now known today as the North East Lincoln Rams' 14U football team is why he was recently recognized as the Rams' eighth "pLAymaker" honoree of 2023.

"Wow, what an honor," Quezada said prior to kickoff of the 14U Rams' game at Salesian High School last Saturday. "What an honor it is to be recognized by a professional NFL team, to be recognized for the work that I'm doing, to be recognized for just doing what I love, which is coaching. So I'm extremely happy. I'm ecstatic. What can I tell you? I'm beyond words."

According to, from July to December, Quezada and officer Pernell Taylor lead a program that serves a gang prevention vehicle for young athletes in Los Angeles' neighborhoods of Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights and El Soreno. In addition to instilling the values of sports and teamwork, it also helps those athletes gain translatable confidence and leadership skills they can use to overcome challenges in their lives.

"It's my 12th year and it's been accomplished," Quezada said of the program's mission. "Mostly education opportunities that have been opening up as a result of playing football, the opportunity to go to college, the opportunity to come to great schools like Salesian High School that are private schools, and to be able to play football for the schools and eventually get to college. That's the ultimate goal, as a people, to educate ourselves and be able to move forward."

For Quezada, how he defines inspire change and how it can be accomplished in one's own community tie into empathy and connection.

"That's With the small stuff, with the human stuff, being humans to one another," Quezada said. "Agree to disagree, but make the change, make those connections, find those things, the common ground, and here, with this community and law enforcement, it was football. We find a common ground where I know a little bit about football, I'm not saying I know everything, but here we are."

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