In his 2010 memoir Swing Your Sword, former Texas Tech and current Washington State Football Coach Mike Leach recounts his thoughts about going into coaching despite never having played a down of college football and not very many meaningful downs in high school.
“Every great thing I have done in life, whether it was Law School, Coaching, implementing offenses to asking my wife to go out with me when I was a freshman at BYU, it all started by asking “Why Not Me?” ………………We as a society have way too many “non-tryers” and too many people happy to stay where society tells them to stay and enough to people that will oblige in telling them to stay where they think they should be.”-Mike Leach, Swing Your Sword, pp. 45-47
For Texas A&M-Commerce Quarterback Luis Perez, his story from Junior Varsity receiver to All-American Quarterback is full of moments where he could have asked himself either “Why Not Me?” or “Why Me?” and chose the former. Luis Perez and his journey has shown he refuses to be defined by anyone other than himself. Not his peers, not coaches, certainly not anyone who has never met him. From a JuCo walk on to an All-American conference champion quarterback. Playing for a school where there have have been some prolific and talented quarterbacks especially of late, Perez is working to be defined as one of, it not the best that has ever come through Commerce, Texas.
Luis Perez’s journey started at Otay Ranch High School in Chula Vista, California, a suburb of San Diego. Growing up playing multiple sports, it was evident that his athletic ability was ever-present in virtually everything he did as a younger athlete. Entering high school Perez played Junior Varsity Basketball and played Football, but as a Wide receiver, but he wanted to be a quarterback. Even had Perez gotten his wish, it would still not have been what he wanted. “We ran the Wing-T offense. All I was doing was blocking downfield and giving the play to the quarterback. It was not fun at all, so I just decided to stop playing.”
There you have it. Not only would Perez end up not playing a single snap as a starting Varsity Quarterback, he did not even play varsity football at Otay Ranch High School. He did however pick up bowling, a sport he is so good at, that the University of Oklahoma offered him a scholarship in his JUCO days. After Perez graduated from ORHS, the bug bit him. The bug that made him want to play quarterback on the college level. Few, if any would believe what would happen next.
South By Southwestern-
Perez enrolled at Southwestern Junior College in his hometown. At first he was a part time student, but he had started working on his game already. “I was working with a quarterback coach to fine tune my techniques. This was a guy who knew what he was doing, and I knew I had to soak up what I was doing if I was going to have any shot at playing on any level.”
In his first year as a full time student, Perez showed up to try out for the powerful and well known Southwestern Jaguars Football program. “As far as we knew, he was some guy named Charlie,” said Southwestern College football coach Ed Carberry in an interview with the San Diego Tribune. “He just showed up one day, a complete unknown.” It was apparent that Perez had some of the intangibles. He was big, he could throw, but he had no idea how operate an offensive system, let alone a collegiate one.
Once again, Perez had someone try to redefine him. He was given 3 choices, change positions and maybe play, stay and not play, or just go. He declined all three. He told his coaches he could play the position and play it well. He decided to persevere. “I just showed up everyday and worked hard, listened to my coaches, and waited for my time to come.”
That time came soon when injuries and transfers left Perez the starting quarterback at Southwestern. In his first game, the coaches at Southwestern got a front row seat to what they had missing out on. In his first game, he threw for 251 yards and boggled everyone’s mind with his deadly accuracy and poise on the pocket. In his sophomore season, he completed nearly 70 percent his of passes for 1,846 yards, 18 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions and nabbed all conference honors. He had a lot to think about. Suddenly he had gone from unknown walk on to one of the top JUCO players in the nation, all because he said he could be, and did what it took to make it happen. He also had a decision to make regarding his future, and it was more than one important decision he had to make.
Perez is a fantastic bowler, so good he got 10 scholarship offers to bowl. Most were full rides as he had competed at the national level and can boast many perfect games and multiple 299 games, but even then, he was a bowler for fun, but a Football player by definition, his own definition.
He also decided to define himself as something that few starting college quarterbacks can be or care to be, a husband. Perez had known his wife Brenda for many years growing up. They had been friends for a while and then began to date, and then it became serious. So serious, that Perez faced the possibility of having to leave San Diego to pursue his football dreams without Brenda. He had the most important choice any man can make. His first question was, “where do I go to play?” Or better yet, “where can I define myself as a football player?”
Perez had a point of reference. There was a school in rural North Texas that was a traditional Division II power that had fallen on hard times but had been experiencing a massive resurgence in the previous 2 years, that school was Texas A&M-Commerce, and it was where his former Southwestern teammate Vernon Johnson had landed at, became an All-American, and signed with the Detroit Lions after college. “I contacted him asking him about Commerce and he said nothing but good things and on top of all the research I had done, I knew that this was the place for me.”
Actually, it would be the place for he and his wife. Luis asked Brenda to marry him and they were wed in California. They had made a decision as a married couple to move to Commerce. They would both attend school while Luis would chase his quarterback aspirations. Once again, the thought of two young people marrying and moving halfway across the country and halfway through their college education was not be what most want to worry about, but the decision was as simple for Perez then as it is now.
“She is my best friend, and it was simple decision for me to ask her to marry me. Why not? We love each other and want to be together. She supports me in everything I do, and she moved halfway across the country because she wanted to support me. I cannot say how much I love her and how much she has done for me. She is my biggest fan and my wife. I am incredibly blessed.”
From SoCal to NorTex-
Perez red-shirted his first year in Commerce in 2015, learning the system. He saw fellow Californian Harrison Stewart lead the Lions to their second straight Lone Star Conference Championship, earning ring number one as a scout team member. Heading into the 2016 season, Perez would face off with Gabe Rodriguez, who had backed up Stewart the previous year and had two years in the potent A&M-Commerce offensive system. In a competition that lasted all Spring and near the beginning of the fall, Perez nabbed the starting job.
In his first game against a hapless U.Faith Florida team, Perez was pulled after only a half as the Lions routed the Eagles 62-0, but the next week Perez would head into a much different game. Facing off against a Delta State team in Cleveland, Mississippi that had gotten the Lions the year before, Perez had a masterful game, defeating the Statesmen 40-28. The Lions went on to finish the regular season at 10-1 and winning their third straight Lone Star conference title. The Lions also qualified for the NCAA Division II playoffs for the second straight year and for the first time since 1991, Commerce’s Memorial Stadium hosted a playoff game, a 34-23 Lion win over Colorado-Mesa. The Lions season ended against a strong Grand Valley State team, finishing 11-2.
Despite the loss in the second round, Perez and his Lion teammates had a lot to be proud of. It was the most wins for the Lions since 1990, the first 11 win season since 1953, and the first playoff win since 1991. Perez’s numbers were very good, 3,326 passing yards and 32 touchdown passes in an offense that was riding All-American Running Back Richard Cooper. Perez racked up the individual awards also. Harlon Hill Trophy finalist (Given to the Best Player in Division II), First team all conference, 2nd team All Region, Honorable Mention All-American, and Top A&M-Commerce Male Student Athlete. After the season, Perez started to get a lot of press, but has taken it in stride. He wants something Lion Country has not had since 1972, a National Championship, and though his first season was defined by a second round exit, Perez is working hard to change his title from conference champion to national champion.
All Systems Go-
Perez has had quite a bit of press heading into his final season. After all, who does not love a good Cinderella story? But Perez is no Cinderella story, not this guy. A former Coach said of Perez “He has this confidence that is rooted a belief he can do anything he sets his mind to. He is not cocky in the least bit, but he has the kid of confidence that is the best anyone can have, if anyone can handle being the starting quarterback at a school like Commerce, being married, and being a student athlete, it is Luis. He has a great head on his shoulders and it will serve him well. His future is limitless.” That confidence seems to be a Perez family trait. His youngest brother has a chance to be a professional bowler, and he has another brother that is studying to be an aerospace engineer. Perez is the first to acknowledge that his dream is improbable, which makes him thankful to everyone that has had a belief in him and has encouraged him to continue to define himself and not let others do it for him. He points to his wife, his parents, his brothers, his former coaches and teammates who root him in from a distance, and keeps his eyes focused on what he wants.
It would have been easy to accept a receiver position. He said no. He could have gone home after being told he would never play college football. He did not. He could have played it safe and waited to get married. He did not, and he could have realized how tough moving across the country might be for his family and satisfy everyone, but he did not. All in for Luis Perez means all in, and nothing held back.
His future might include an invite to the NFL or Canadian Football League. Either would be fine with Perez. Or it might include coaching as he his major is kinesiology. Whichever Perez chooses to be, one can only bet that he will be sure to define his future himself.
After all, it has worked quite well up to this point.