Even though he knew he would play behind future NFL draftee Kamalei Correa, last season was going to be the best one yet for Gabe Perez.
After racking up six sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss his first two seasons, Perez was going to be a factor at Boise State’s STUD defensive end position, a terror for opposing backfields and quarterbacks, giving no respite when Correa wasn’t on the field.
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But those plans were put on hold a year ago when a torn labrum in his right shoulder the first week of fall practice sidelined him for the season.
“It was probably the toughest thing I’ve ever had (to go through) in my entire life,” Perez said.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that he was so good so quickly, playing 12 games as a true freshman in 2013. He has a redshirt year available.
Perez returned to the field this spring after a five-month program to get back into lifting, running and sprinting condition, and is now vying with sophomore Jabril Frazier for first-team snaps.
“I think he picked up right where he left off,” defensive line coach Steve Caldwell said. “He had a really good spring, and he’s carried that over. We’re excited about what we could do at that position.”
Perez said he is “just happy to be back on the field,” but even last season while being away from the game, he said seeing players like Frazier make an impact helped his recovery.
“It was tough, but then again, we had so many guys, especially at STUD. Everyone stepped up, it made it a lot easier that even though I got hurt, my teammates stepped up and contributed,” Perez said.
The 6-foot-4, 234-pound Perez, even without playing last season or having a start under his belt, is one of the most experienced members of the defensive line. His 58 tackles are the most for a returning player, as are his sacks and tackles for loss totals. Only seniors Sam McCaskill and Elliot Hoyte have appeared in more games.
“In terms of how much he’s played, he’s one of two or three guys in our group that’s seen the most snaps,” Caldwell said. “But with that, he’s been out a year, so he not only has to get back from that, but hopefully be better than he was the last time he played.”
But it isn’t a guarantee that will be the case, despite strong reviews in practice. Perez said Monday: “I’m not back to full strength, but I’m kind of getting there, I guess.” The rust, he said, has made him a better player.
“It slows down the game,” Perez said. “I’m not as strong as I want to be or I think I’ll be. So I’ve got to use better techniques, got to read my keys better.”
Perez has shown his knack for playmaking in his first two seasons, and will likely be used plenty, even if Frazier is given the starting nod. Caldwell said there are scenarios in which both play. For Perez, ever the team player, he’s proven a capable backup, and even if that’s the case again, he’s ready.
“It’s a great opportunity — every day, I never take it for granted,” Perez said. “Honestly, the only thing I want to do is make the team better, even if I’m a starter or not.”
Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @IDS_BroncoBeat