By Joseph Garcia
When the door was cracked open for senior tailback Jesse (JJ) Perez, he kicked it in and busted through, which also happens to be the way he runs the football. Perez patiently waits to let the play develop and when he sees the hole, there is no hesitation as he takes advantage of the opportunity and maximizes it, usually for a big gain or a touchdown.
Last season, he was one of the top running backs on the Liberty Hill JV football team. This year as a senior, Perez knew he would be on the varsity team and earned his way to become the starting tailback in Coach Jerry Vance’s Slot-T.
In three games played this season, Perez has accumulated 422 yards rushing with four touchdowns on only 44 carries. He leads the team in yards per carry nearly averaging a first down every time he touches the ball with 9.6.
The athletic Perez also handles punting duties and is more than serviceable with a 30.4 average.
“He’s one of those kids that has risen to the top,” said Coach Vance. “He was kind of a backup when two-a-days started and some things happened, then he had an opportunity to step in as the first tailback and he’s taken it, he’s run with it and he’s doing what he’s supposed to do. He’s had a great attitude and does what he needs to do to make the yards. I am really proud. It’s really fun to watch kids rise to that level.”
Last Friday against Smithville, Perez topped all rushers with 192 yards on just 14 carries and two touchdowns. His yards per carry average was a gaudy 13.71, but he gives all the credit to his offensive line.
“I felt great, but I couldn’t have done it without my line, so I give them props for that,” said Perez after the 49-13 win. “But it was a heck of a football game. I just do what I do and take it.”
Perez said he and the rest of the team were extra motivated after some stark remarks made by the visiting team about Liberty Hill’s size.
“They came out saying we were smaller than them so they gave us more hype so we were just going to go in and do what we do,” he said.
Coach Vance said the patient tailback has exceeded expectations and is proud of the job Perez has done in three games. But now Vance is looking to see how the senior reacts to the achievements he’s produced thus far.
“He’s done a marvelous job,” Vance said. “It will be fun to see how he responds now that he’s had some success and people are starting to look at him. Other defenses are going to start (planning to) defend him. JJ has matured and it’s a real joy and is one of the rewards being in this game and in this seat that I get to see kids mature and step up into a role they are asked to play, be a leader and be successful with it. It’s nice to see JJ take that step. It will pay off for him down the road when he gets out of high school with his family and that type of thing. He will be quite a man.”
With opposing defenses having to worry about the quick and speedy Perez bursting through blocks, it should open things up in the middle for fullback Cory Ferrell who currently leads the team in carries (75), yards (463) and touchdowns (8).
Coach Vance said it will also help free up some space for junior running back Will Fromme to do some damage. Fans should soon begin to see the three-headed monster with Perez, Ferrell and Fromme Coach Vance has always envisioned for the Slot-T offense.
“That’s going to open up some things, too, for Will (Fromme) and make us a little more three-dimensional like we would like to be,” Vance said. “We would like it to happen like that.”
As the season progresses, expect to see No. 21 dodging tackles and exciting fans with big-time runs. If Perez and the offense keeps producing like they are, it could make for an exciting December.