October 3, 2008

Perez at Home in Aztec Secondary

By John Philip Wyllie

With the Aztec offense exploding for a season high 45 points last weekend much of the post-game focus was naturally on quarterback Ryan Lindley (433 yards passing with 4 TDs), Vincent Brown (8 receptions for 183 yards and 3 TDs) and Atiyyah Henderson (21 carries for 119 yards and 2 TDs).

The defense however, was equally impressive in limiting the University of Idaho to just 17 points (14 of which were scored late in the game against the second team defense). One of the standouts on defense for the Aztecs was former Oceanside High baseball and football star, Jose Perez. Head coach, Chuck Long had some positive things to say about his new starting cornerback.

“He really played well. He held his own (in his first start) got an interception and had another pass break-up that they called pass interference on. He was aggressive on that play and that is the way you want him. I thought he really played well. He warrants more playing time.”

It has been a long road to the Aztec gridiron for Perez. Drafted out of high school into the Yankee organization, Perez was out of football for several years while he pursued his dream of becoming a Major League baseball player. After several years in the minors and slower than anticipated progress, he reversed field enrolled at SDSU and joined the football team as a wide receiver. Buried deep in the depth chart, he was approached last year about the possibility of switching to the defensive side of the ball.

“We needed to shore up that position last year and he was open to it. He saw it as an opportunity to get on the field faster,” Long said. Now he is starting and playing well.

“My whole life I have been transitioning through different sports, so I am used to doing different things. I think this has worked out pretty well. I have found a home,” Perez said.

Perez was an All-CIF receiver at Oceanside and the Valley League’s MVP, so he knows more than a little something about being a receiver. It gives him an edge.

“I know how (receivers) break off their patterns. It is easy for me to see what they are doing. That has helped me to get better at knowing my position at defensive back.”

While he started against Idaho and played well, Perez is not assuming that he now has a lock on that position. He injured his rotator cuff while making a tackle Saturday and was walking around with his arm in a sling Tuesday afternoon. He is optimistic however, that he will be back on the field on Saturday. If he can’t go, he knows the team has sufficient depth to fill in for him.

“Everybody can start on this team and that is a good thing. There is a lot of competition on this team and that helps us a lot,” Perez said.

Determined to help the team in every way possible, Perez volunteered to return kicks. It is not a job for the faint at heart. Fortunately, Perez has nerves of steel.

“It can be pretty scary at first, but once you make the catch and start moving it doesn’t really get in your head. You just try and stay away from those guys (that are barreling downfield intent on laying you out).

The Aztecs will face a tough test in Fort Worth this weekend when they take on (4-1) TCU.

“They are very big and very fast. Things didn’t go too well for them last weekend against (#2 ranked) Oklahoma, but they are always a top-ranked team. We will have to execute well, stick to our game plan and go out there and try to stop them.”

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