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April 6, 2012

From LA to RMU, Perez finally back on the field

The dream of every high school football player is to get a full ride to play college football. For many, the dream ends without them ever playing a down in college.

Some never grow into the bodies they hoped to have. Others get injured, struggle academically, or run into a myriad of other issues.

Adrian Perez came close to being just another hopeful who had his dream curtailed. Instead, it was simply delayed.

A 2009 graduate of Santee High School in Los Angeles, Perez's first stop was at West Los Angeles Community College. After two years at West L.A., Perez was on track to move onto a four year school. He had Division I looks, but he also had his first hurdle to overcome.

"The only thing that set me back was my units and credits," Perez said.

He made up those credits in time to accept an offer at Division II William Jewell College in Missouri. But before he could get to Missouri, life intervened again.

"I had a couple of family members pass away, so I had to stop what I was going to do, start working, and help my family out," Perez said. "I didn't think I was going to come play football again."

But Perez held out hope. Once his family situation settled down, he emailed schools a copy of his junior college film. Robert Morris was among several Division I schools who were interested.

"It's been a year since I've been out here. I didn't stop," Perez said. "I kept on training, and I found a great place to work out where I live. But football wise, full on contact, it was a while."

The layoff didn't stop the interest from coming in. The Colonials have a California connection with Cameron Chadwick (Vista), Hunter Khaleghi (San Diego), and Andrew Douglass (San Clemente), but what sold Perez was the position. Elon was interested, but wanted him at middle linebacker. Georgia Southern courted him, but saw him on the defensive line and jump up to 270 pounds. But Robert Morris needed an outside linebacker, and the fit was perfect.

"I've been playing outside linebacker since I was in high school. I was like, "let's do it," Perez said.

Perez operated in the 4-3 in high school, but he got a taste of the 3-4 at West LA. He was almost a pure pass rusher in junior college, so he's had to adjust to a more versatile taste of the position at Robert Morris.

"I was always blitzing. I was the best pass rusher there," he said. "This 3-4 defense is more covering and knowing where your man's at, but everything's coming along."

As for any lingering effects from the layoff, Perez said staying in shape during that year off helped him make the transition back to playing shape.

"I really didn't think of it much, just had to shake the rust off. I still have what I was able to do two years ago," he said. "It's just a learning process now, and I'm picking up with a few adjustments here and there."

Of course, there have been a couple adjustments. It's a minor factor, but the weather can still be a culture shock.

"I remember when I first got out here, the first week out here, they said it was the warmest winter they've had and it was like 18 degrees and there was snow," Perez recalled.

The Los Angeles native had never seen snow fall before.

"This was a different shock, but I got used to it," he said. "Still, it's nothing like California weather."

The weather, the layoff, the adjustment to a four-year college, none of that matters now to Perez. Not with North Dakota State looming on September 1. Many Colonials have talked of that game, a rematch of the 2010 first round FCS playoff game. But for Perez, it holds something even more special than a test against the defending national champions.

"September 1st is the biggest game and test of my life. In (junior college), I played against D-I athletes that have gone on to Arkansas State, Arizona State, but this is my Super Bowl for me," he said. "This is the first time I'll ever get a chance to play a legit Division I school."

After almost missing out on college football, it's a chance Perez isn't going to waste.

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi contributed to this report and can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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