Perez is the lone survivor

By BRUCE HEFFLINGERhefflinger@crescent-news.com Published:

It's a scene played out all across the country.

Boys, kindergarten age and even younger, getting a football for a present.

Eager to learn, dad takes the toddler out in the yard to show how to throw the ball, catch it, run and tackle.

Soon after it's time to invite neighborhood kids to join in.

By age seven and eight it's games of three-on-three, or hopefully, even more.

It becomes a ritual. Friends are made and the hope is some day all we eventually become teammates on the high school stage.

Dreams of league and even state titles are talked about. "You'll be the quarterback and I'll be the receiver" are words that will be tossed around.

Unfortunately for Vinnie Perez, there's only one left from that group. No buddy his age to throw the ball to or to reminisce about those "good old days" in the backyard.

You see, Perez is the lone senior on this year's Ayersville football team.

Well, there is a second senior on the squad but it's exchange student Onni Juvonen, a first-year student at the Defiance County school who is also seeing time on the field after missing the start of the year with an injury.

But it's Perez who is the leader of the Pilots, which take a 2-5 record into Friday's game with arch-rival Tinora.

"I never thought I'd be the only one left, but it's an honor," said the 6-3, 170-pounder, who sees action at quarterback and receiver on offense and in the secondary on defense.

As a junior, Perez threw for 532 yards as the starting QB, but Pilot mentor Chris Dales saw the need to put the senior in a position - make that positions - to better help the squad.

"We felt we needed to get him the ball in other areas," Dales explained. "He's quarterback, Z back, runs it out of the gun, we throw with him ... we just look to do a lot of different things with him. He's done a wonderful job. His attitude is awesome and it's really neat to see him give all the effort he does. I appreciate it, the other coaches appreciate it and more importantly the other players appreciate it."

No matter the position, it still brings a bit of pressure being the lone senior veteran of the squad.

"They look to me and Colton (Relyea) as the leaders being quarterbacks," Perez said. "We need to lead the team. On defense in the secondary I have to lead. Joe Goonan (middle linebacker) takes a lot of that pressure off me being the quarterback of the defense."

Having just one senior is certainly not something a coach dreams about.

"I try to stay as positive with it as I can," noted Dales, pointing to a senior class with fewer than 20 boys.

As eighth graders, the class had eight that played football but by their freshman year that number was down to six. Those still in the program dwindled to three a year later before Perez was the only one left as a junior. It stayed that way this fall.

"It basically comes down to he stuck it out," Dales said. "The class struggled throughout, but he stuck with it. He loves football.

"It goes to show that hard work and dedication can pay off," added Dales. "Football's a lot of that stuff. Kids don't want to pay the price to do things they need to do to be competitive any more. But Vinnie goes far and beyond that."

It's something Perez is glad he did.

"They're missing out on a family atmosphere," Perez said of those that didn't stay with the sport. "There's a camaraderie we have as a family they're missing out on."

And there's also the learning part of it that Perez will take to his future endeavors.

"Things I will take from this are that there's more in life (than football)," Perez said. "We talk not just about football but that this is about life. Those are things I will take from this . . . things like discipline, being on time to work and being ready to work."

It's something Dales preaches to his team, no matter the number of seniors.

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  • Congrats for sticking it out but TRUE tradition? Seriously? Ayersville hasn't beaten a team with a winning record in 5 years. Vinnie has carried on the tradition but Coach Dales has not. As an alumni I admire your sacrifice to stick in out. But please whoever posted this don't refer to the proud tradition that was once Ayersville football. Things need to change in our once proud program.

  • Way to go Vinnie! Way to go Coach Dales! Both are carrying on the TRUE tradition of Pilot Football. And Vinnie, you are so right! What you take from this game isn't trophies, but life lessons! Good Luck Vinnie, Coach Dales, and the WHOLE PILOT FOOTBALL TEAM!