He makes a big play, and quickly the right arm goes up.
Boise State senior linebacker Gabe Perez taps his right shoulder as a little celebration, but also a signal to a few of his friends on the Broncos’ sideline.
Perez is savoring each tackle he makes this season, one in which he wasn’t even sure would come a year ago, when he had his third shoulder surgery.
“I want to acknowledge the guys that are injured, shoulder, ankle, knee, whatever,” Perez said. “It’s a sign to them that they’ll get through it and be back right where I am.”
Players such as linebacker Blake Whitlock, safety Evan Tyler and wide receiver Akilian Butler are in a place Perez knows all too well, rehabbing long-term injuries that keep them out for the season.
Entering this season, Perez had played in just five games since the 2014 Fiesta Bowl. He has six tackles, one for loss, and a pass breakup in four games in 2017. He made his first two career starts in the Broncos’ last two games.
“When you’re sitting there on that exercise bike or running decks while you’re out and guys are playing or practicing, it takes a toll on you,” Perez said. “You’ve got to have some reassurance you’re working for a reason.”
Keeping those guys positive isn’t just something Perez tries to do every game – rather, it’s an everyday thing.
“He wanted to be out here with his teammates,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “He’s made a huge difference with the injured guys. He goes over there, every guy on the bike, every guy sitting out of practice, he’s probably the first one over there encouraging those guys.”
Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said of Perez, “Through Gabe’s struggles with being banged up, he stayed resilient.” Being around the team was a major reason he was willing to go through rehab last fall after another shoulder injury cut short his junior year.
Growing up in a large family in Southern California, “talking, playing, fighting,” Perez said his personality came from building relationships. And his teammates appreciate that presence.
“As a person, Gabe’s second to none,” sophomore nose tackle Sonatane Lui said. “He’s a little old school, which I really like. When we travel, we’ll have team meals. You see the guys on their cellphones, and Gabe just says, ‘Hey, why don’t we try talking for a change?’ That’s the kind of guy Gabe is; he really wants to get to know everyone.”
Perez said he’s taken one of Avalos’ teaching points to heart: simplifying your life. He said he wants to know all he can about his teammates, since football doesn’t last forever. He knows how an injury can derail plans, and he’s seen plenty of change in his time at Boise State.
He is the only player on the roster to play in a game under former coach Chris Petersen, back in 2013 when he had seven tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks as a true freshman.
“It feels like I’ve been here a long time, but time flies,” Perez said. “I’ve seen a lot of people come through, a lot of recruiting classes. I’m the old guy on the team, I guess I show it.”
Age often brings maturity, and Perez shows plenty of that. He graduated with a business degree and is working on his master’s in accounting. Outside of class and football, he’s a recruit again, looking to find a job once football is done. He had an interview last week with a major accounting firm.
“If I have the chance to go to the next level, I would take it,” Perez said. “But that’s not my only plan. Any successful person won’t just have Plan A. I have to consider what I would do if this is it for my football career.”
Five questions with Gabe Perez
What drew you to accounting?
“My first class, part of getting my business degree, we had like 300 kids. After the first exam, literally 200 had to drop the class because they failed it. I actually got an A. So I was like, ‘if it’s hard, but I’m doing well, let’s see how far I can take it.’ ”
You’re from Orange County, so what will it be like playing at San Diego State?
“I’ll probably have more than 50 people there. There might be one section of just people with ‘33’ jerseys, they just got a bunch of them. It’s a big game for me, playing in front of the family.”
What was it like growing up there?
“I’ve got a really tight family, every weekend at someone’s house having a barbecue, celebrating a birthday. I’ve got 10 brothers and sisters, so there was always something going on. I played a lot of sports growing up. I never was a big beach guy, even though it was down the street. I didn’t like that there wasn’t any food there.”
So, what is your food of choice then?
“My dad’s from Mexico, my mom isn’t. His side, I get really good, authentic stuff when we see them. I love the tacos. Carne asada, a little cilantro, onions, some salsa, lime and a bit of salt, that’s the best.”
How long have you had your hair growing out?
“It’s been two years. I decided it looked good with the pads on. After football, I think I’m going to cut it. I don’t think it’ll work for an accountant.”
Boise State at No. 19 San Diego State
When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: SDCCU Stadium (54,000, grass), San Diego
TV: CBS Sports Network (Carter Blackburn, Aaron Taylor, Jenny Dell)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: BSU 3-2, 1-0 (beat BYU 24-7); San Diego State 6-0, 2-0 (beat UNLV 41-10)
Series: Tied 2-2 (Boise State won 38-29 on Nov. 15, 2014, in last meeting)
Vegas line: San Diego State by 6 1/2
Kickoff weather: High 60s, clear