Every day he looks in the mirror, the scars on each of Gabe Perez’s shoulders can’t be missed. He’s had three operations on them, after all.
They’re a reminder of what perhaps could have been, but also what has inspired him to keep playing. The redshirt senior linebacker has played in five games during the last two seasons, and those injuries nearly led him to decide to end his Boise State career.
“I thought about it,” Perez said. “But then again, I thought about 20 years from now, if I would regret it if I had one more year?”
So here Perez stands, not just back on the practice field in fall camp, but expecting to be a key contributor for the Broncos’ defense this year.
This isn’t a victory lap for the only player left on the roster who played under Chris Petersen, a nice story of a guy who could see a few snaps here and there. Perez was listed on the pre-fall camp depth chart No. 1 at strongside linebacker.
“It excites me, but I just want to help the team out if I’m out there. Wherever they want me at, different position, I don’t care. I just want to play and help the team out,” Perez said.
Perez made the move from STUD end this summer after playing that position and linebacker in the spring. In his first two seasons (2013 and 2014), he had 14.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. After missing 2015 with a shoulder injury, he only played five games last season before another injury. Perez is one of only three seniors on the defensive side of the ball on the initial depth chart.
“We do have high hopes for him,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “Most guys in his situation, they’re probably not going to continue on. He loves the game, loves his team, loves the challenge, as difficult as it is. That’s his mentality. That’s why he’s successful and he will in everything he does.”
At 6-foot-4, 246 pounds, Perez has the size to set the edge and potentially form a potent pass rush with the STUDs on the other side creating havoc. He’ll be called upon to be a key part of a position that is seeing a bit of reinvention.
Strongside linebacker, which featured now-Buffalo Bill Tanner Vallejo and Blake Whitlock last season, provides some different options for the Broncos.
Want a pass rusher who also can handle bigger blockers? There’s Perez. Need an athletic guy who can move around in space? There’s 5-11, 201-pound redshirt freshman Desmond Williams. Facing a pass-heavy team? There’s 5-9, 194-pound Avery Williams, who has also worked as a returner, cornerback and running back.
“You do need to have options there, you’re talking about edges ... how are you going to control that?” Harsin said. “We have our ‘weapon’ position on offense. You can flip that over on the defensive side and say your edges are your weapon guys.
“I started looking at it like, ‘Hell, we’ve got some weapons on defense.’ ”
After admitting he was hesitant at times last fall coming off an injury, that isn’t the case thus far in fall camp for Perez. Harsin said he has played at a high level, with his leadership vital. Perez said he feels “brand new,” which could be a massive boon for a brand-new look at many positions on his side of the ball.
“I hope he stays healthy because he’s a beast when he’s out there,” Avery Williams said.