Outside of Colby Carthel’s office at Texas A&M University-Commerce sits a pool table. The football coach of the Division II school near Dallas that you’ve probably never heard of says he got it to help promote a family environment within his program, and jokingly tells players he’ll pull their scholarships if they beat him.
That was not a problem for Luis Perez at first.
“I was getting my butt kicked every single day by coach Carthel,” Perez said. “He would kick my butt every single day and I was tired of it, and I hated losing.”
So, Perez went to YouTube and started researching. He figured out how to hold the pool cue a little better. He started learning to put spin on the ball. He occasionally ducked into the facility between classes and practiced. He started winning, sometimes in spectacular fashion.
“We were playing one time, he made this terrific bank shot,” Carthel said. “I’m like, ‘How in the world did you do that?’”
Carthel estimates the two played 500-600 games of pool during Perez’s time at the university, and Perez now wins 90 percent of their games.
That’s the first thing you have to understand about Luis Perez: He’s a little different. Not many people decide to be an NFL quarterback during their senior years of high school, while watching a game from the stands. Perez, who signed with the Los Angeles Rams as an undrafted free agent last week, did.
The first place Perez went to figure out how to be an NFL quarterback was YouTube. He put in the most obvious search possible, “How to play quarterback,” and started to teach himself everything from mechanics to coverages to defensive fronts. Eventually, he got hooked up with Akili Smith — a friend’s uncle, who also happened to be a former quarterback and the third overall pick by the Bengals in the 1999 draft — and started attending Smith’s training sessions.
Smith held two of those every day, one in Chula Vista, Perez’s hometown, near San Diego, and another in Mount Carmel. Perez went to both, trying to make up ground on everyone else. When he walked into head coach Ed Carberry’s office at Southwestern Junior College as a freshman in 2013, Perez told him, “Hey, my name’s Luis Perez, I want to be your next quarterback.”
“And then [Carberry] just kinda chuckles a little bit,” Perez said, recalling the story. “He says, ‘OK, well, where’d you play? And what are your accolades, where are you from?’ And I told him I didn’t play high school football.”
Carberry gave him a chance anyway. Perez was made the ninth-string quarterback.
Three years later, Perez came to tell Carthel goodbye for Christmas. It was his redshirt junior season — the first in which he started at A&M Commerce after transferring from Southwestern — and the Lions had lost to Grand Valley State in the second round of the playoffs.
Perez couldn’t stand it. The Division II National Championship Game was in Kansas City, Kan., and Perez wanted to be playing in it. He scrapped his Christmas plans — driving to San Diego with his wife, Brenda — paid $25 for a ticket near the 50-yard line and drove to Kansas City instead.
Carthel was in disbelief when he learned of the change in plans. There was a blizzard on the way to Missouri and, really, was Northwest Missouri State vs. North Alabama worth the trouble?
But Perez made the trip anyway, then sat through that blizzard as Northwest Missouri State beat down North Alabama, 29-3.
“It was probably negative-five degrees with wind-chill at kickoff,” Perez said. “And we’re sitting in the stands, just watching. I tried to take a notebook and take notes, but that wasn’t gonna happen just because how cold it was and it was snowing.”
Afterward, Perez walked on the field and went through the locker room, wanting to see what it was like, to prepare himself to play in the game the next year. He called Carthel, who was at a Christmas party, to tell the coach that A&M Commerce wasn’t too far off.
“I got to questioning myself,” Carthel said. “I’m like, ‘Geez, this guy’s our quarterback, he’s much more dedicated than I am, driving across the country just to experience the [DII] National Championship Game.’”
“It’s one of those things a lot of people won’t do, but I try not to think about that stuff because that’s just the way I am and, the more I think about it, you say, ‘Half these people won’t even do this,’” Perez said. “I don’t want to ingrain that in my head because I’m different. I have to try and tell myself that I’m different from everybody else. So I really try not to think about it that much.”
At Southwestern, after being placed ninth on the depth chart, he moved up five spots because of happenstance — transfers, injuries, a couple players deciding to focus on baseball over football.
Still, he was the fourth-string QB entering fall camp, and the starter was set in stone. Perez won the competition to be second string, and eventually the starter got hurt, giving him a chance to play.
Two games later, Perez broke his leg. All that progress was gone in an instant. Perez missed the rest of that season and all of spring practice. Southwestern brought in a transfer quarterback from Florida International — a Division I player who had won California Player of the Year in high school — to replace Perez.
“You don’t realize how much you need your legs until you don’t have one, until you’re handicapped a little bit,” Perez says now, in a light tone before getting a little more serious.
“But it was tough. It was a tough feeling just knowing that I had reached my peak of playing, you know, starting as a freshman, after not playing high school football. Two games [in], I break my leg and had to do this all over again. It was tough.”
Perez didn’t start the first game at Southwestern his sophomore year, but eventually got in the game and largely took over from there. Both quarterbacks played thanks to their different styles — Perez being a pocket passer, his counterpart, Isaraelu Paopao, being more of a running quarterback — and Perez was on the field enough to catch the attention of A&M Commerce.
Jared May didn’t realize Perez hadn’t played high school football until after the quarterback hopeful got to campus.
He had watched Perez’s film from Southwestern and, despite some questions about arm strength, came away intrigued. During the recruiting process, he quizzed Perez about his hobbies, but never thought to ask if he had played high school football. It happened to come up in a story Perez was telling.
“‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a second. You didn’t play high school football?’” May, the quarterbacks coach at A&M Commerce, recalled.
“Are we really gonna take a guy who never played high school football?”
“We were just like, ‘Well, whatever,’ you know, just kinda blew it off,” said Matt Storm, the Lions’ offensive coordinator. “He had great stats and stuff in college.”
Storm, though, was still skeptical of Perez. When he went to California with A&M Commerce’s receivers coach to watch Perez work out, the two were filling the rental car back up with gas before returning it. They turned to each other and made comments along the lines of, “Well, he may not be the greatest quarterback we ever had.”
Still, the Lions — impressed by Perez’s demeanor as much as his tape — took Perez.
A&M Commerce already had two capable quarterbacks when Perez was brought in, so he redshirted — and made an impression. Perez got up to lift weights with the freshmen at 5 a.m. every day, and when the Lions couldn’t fit him on the plane for their playoff game at Ferris State, located in Big Rapids, Mich., Perez made the drive.
“They left at like 3 in the morning and got there at 9 o’clock at night or something like that,” Storm said. “… You just kinda shrug your shoulders at that guy.”
So maybe it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone that Perez cared deeply about a friendly game of pool or that once he had the starting job, he looked for every edge he could find, right down to the type of footballs the Lions used.
Nearly every team to win a national title in recent memory, it turned out, did so using a Wilson 1005 ball. And so after his redshirt junior year, the first in which he started, Perez asked Carthel to switch over from the more cost-effective Wilson GSTs. Despite some apprehension on Carthel’s part, he texted Perez a week later: “Hey, we’re ordering your footballs.”
The actual motive was more simple: Perez liked the balls he had played with in junior college and needed a way to persuade Carthel to buy them. Once the Lions made the semifinals, they were the only team left that played with Wilson 1005s. So how could they lose?
“I told you, Coach!” Carthel recalled Perez saying upon finding out. “It’s destiny!”
But Perez did more than bring a national title to A&M Commerce, he also took home the Harlon Hill Trophy — Division II’s version of the Heisman — and graduated, all in the same week.
There were four quarterbacks at the tryout. The Rams were only going to sign one.
After everything — the rise from ninth string to first, a broken leg, a Division II transfer, a national title — Perez’s best shot at the NFL involved outplaying three more guys.
The coaching staff at A&M Commerce knew coming into his senior year that Perez had a shot at the NFL if he played well and the Lions made a run in the playoffs. That was only validated when 25 teams, by Perez’s recollection, stopped in to introduce themselves throughout the year.
So after a season in which Perez did everything he needed, throwing for more than 5,000 yards and making that playoff run, he entered the draft knowing he’d either be a late-round pick or undrafted.
The first step was the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, where Perez earned the start over TCU’s Kenny Hill and Michigan’s John O’Korn after a week’s worth of practice. Coming into his Pro Day, questions still swirled because of Perez’s status as a Division II player.
“Just being at this level you’re gonna get questioned,” Storm said. “Especially playing that position. There’s all the Division I quarterbacks, all this, ‘Why is he not this, why is he not that?’ … They’re looking for reasons why not instead of why.”
Perez scripted his Pro Day with Dustin Vaughan, another Division II quarterback who had played under the same coaching staff five years earlier at West Texas A&M before making the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys.
In addition to showcasing Perez’s strengths, the two made sure the attributes questioned most by scouts — arm strength and mobility — were on display.
The plan worked. By May’s recollection, Perez had just one incompletion during his entire workout.
“I had the interaction with scouts like, ‘We didn’t know his arm strength was that good,’ or, ‘We didn’t know he could throw the ball that good,’” Storm said.
“I’m just, ‘The guy’s got 5,000 yards, what are you talking about?’ … But they just naturally dock it cause it’s 5,000 yards vs. Division II.”
Despite playing well enough that teams told Perez to keep his phone nearby during April’s draft, 256 picks came and went without his name being called. Which brings us back to the tryout.
Perez, Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici, Florida’s Austin Appleby and East Carolina’s Cody Keith came in. Perez made it out.
“As soon as the workout was over, the quarterbacks coach had told me that I did a really good job and that ultimately, the decision wasn’t up to him, it was up to the general manager and the head coach,” Perez said. “Within a few minutes after that, the general manager called me into his office and made the decision to sign me.”
Perez still has some hurdles to jump over before he actually makes the roster. When he spoke to The Post on Sunday, it was just his fourth day with the Rams. He’s still learning the playbook — one that differs greatly from what he was working with at A&M Commerce — and the Rams have four quarterbacks signed. Last year, they carried just two into the regular season, and Jared Goff isn’t going anywhere.
If Perez can’t beat out Sean Mannion and Brandon Allen in camp, he’ll likely be cut, and who knows what happens from there. But Perez has come this far. What’s one more step?
Source: Read Full Article