RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- As a freshman at Baldwin Park (Calif.), Francisco Perez showed potential. He was strong, athletic, powerful and ran downhill at opposing defenders. He had upside. He still does.
On the field, Perez is one of the more highly-regarded interior line prospects on the West Coast. He’s bull-strong, and really upped his stock with a strong spring and summer.
He manhandles opposing defenders playing on the outside edge as a tackle, fires off the ball extremely quickly, takes defenders to the ground and plays with a mean streak a country mile wide. Perez is also very technically sound, able to show great quickness in coming around on trap pull blocks, and getting off defenders and sprinting down field for a lead block. Frankly, he can look like a fullback at times with his foot speed.
Perhaps the best thing that Perez brings to the table is a tackle’s athleticism on the interior. Most of his highlights are on the outside, but he’s nimble – and stout – enough to bring all of those attributes to the inside for California, as well as a lot of versatility, as the Baldwin Park offensive line plays in both two-point and three-point stances.
“We like to disguise it,” he says. “We don’t like to show the other team that we’re going to pass or run. We like to confuse them a little bit. If we were to run the ball, if it’s second-and-one, we’ll take our chances and go to two-point, make them think it’s pass. For me, being athletic as I am, I think there’s no difficulty. I think it’s a little bit … I think I’m a little bit slower out of my two-point, but I still get the chance to block the guy in front of me.”
All that would be for naught, though, if he didn’t have the grades.
“My freshman year, I didn’t care, when I thought to myself that I wasn’t going to go big, because of the school that I go to, and the way people talked about us,” Perez says, his GPA was low – 2.0 low.
That’s when his offensive line coach – who he remembers only by the nickname Big A – told him he had to shape up. He was talented, yes, but if he kept that “I can’t, so I won’t,” attitude, he’d be a waste.
“I had a 2.6, until my coach came up to me,” Perez says. “He said I had a lot of potential. ‘You could go places,’ he said. ‘You should start working harder and get your grades up.’”
Fast forward three years, and he’s committed to play football at the University of California, the top public institution in the nation. He’s not only a success story; he’s an inspiration.
Paco’s parents – Francisco, Sr., who works at a heating and air conditioning company, and Olga, a homemaker – emigrated from Mexico in 1997. Paco was born in Los Angeles in February of 1998. He will be the first member of his family to attend a four-year University.
“I talk to my sister (Tiffany) every day about it,” he says. “She’d come home with a 2.0 average on her report card from middle school, and I always tell her, ‘I used to be like you; I didn’t care, but when you grow up, you get a reality check.’ I just want to be a role model for my sister: Anyone can make it. Just because we’re Latino doesn’t mean we can’t make it. Anyone can do it. Just keep your grades up.
“I'm just excited for her. I know she’s excited. She said she would love to go to Cal, as well, and I just want to be a good role model to my family.”
He already is. From that humble 2.6 start, Perez has raised his overall GPA to a 3.03, and took home a 3.6 GPA the first semester of his junior year, before falling to a 3.3 in the spring, a fact that irked him enough that he took summer school to raise his grades.
“My freshman year, when I didn’t care, when I thought to myself that I wasn’t going to go big, because of the school that I go to, and the way people talked about us,” Perez says. “This year was a lack, so next year, I’ve got to pick it up. Ever since Big A gave me that talk, it was a reality check. Being the first generation to go to a four-year university, it’s a blessing.”