Bowling to Football: Chula Vista Native’s Unusual Route to NFL

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Luis Perez throws a football at the Los Angeles Rams off-season work out. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Rams

The road to the NFL was an unusual one for Chula Vista native Luis Perez.

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He didn’t play football in high school and didn’t go to college at a football powerhouse, but nonetheless, he was signed Monday as an undrafted rookie quarterback by the Los Angeles Rams.

“It’s a dream come true to get this opportunity to be able to come here. close to home, L.A. — I’m used to this weather,” Perez said at a news conference Tuesday. “I’m loving it. But then again, I’m just thankful for this opportunity.”

Perez’s path of the NFL was unusual not because he didn’t grow up playing football. He did. It was unusual because he gave up football for an entirely different sport — bowling. Growing up in Chula Vista, the 23-year-old, played quarterback in pee-wee football.

When he got to high school at Otay Ranch High, he was moved to wide receiver and wasn’t utilized as much. At the same time, he becoming really good at bowling. So, Perez decided to give up the football cleats for bowling shoes.

Why bowling? There was no family connection. His father, Juan Perez, was a professional soccer player in his native country of Mexico. He fell in love with the sport at his dad’s birthday party.

“We went out to bowl and [I] did pretty good, compared to everybody else and my brothers and my dad,” he said. “I kinda fell in love with it, I guess you can say, just from that one time. Started going every Tuesday night. Got my own ball, got my own shoes and joined a league and started bowling pretty good and started going to tournaments.”

He has 12 perfect games in his career, which is nothing to sneeze at, and several tournament wins, though he didn’t disclose how many.

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“I would compete in tournaments throughout high school, all over California,” he said. “I’d go to Arizona, did some in Las Vegas a couple times. It was all right for a little bit.”

Despite his bowling success, the football bug was still there. And he caught the bug again at the last football game of his high school career. His friends on the football team had convinced him to come out to watch the last game of the season.

“I’m sitting in the stands and I’m looking around and I see all these people in the stands and I’m seeing everybody come out of the tunnel and I’m like, ‘Holy cow, what am I doing up here? I need to be down there,'” Perez said. “That was the moment I decided, ‘You know what, it’s time to play football.'”

After high school, Perez walked on at Southwestern College. He was ninth of nine quarterbacks on the depth chart but worked his way up to starter. In his second season with the Jaguars, he led them to a conference title and all-conference honors.

Perez then transferred to Texas A&M-Commerce, a Division II school. He won the Harlon Hill Trophy in 2017 as the best player in the nation for Division II, completing 70.6 percent of his passes for 5,001 yards with 46 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Last season, Perez led the Lions to its first national championship since 1972.

With just four years of football experience under his belt, how did Perez earned a coveted contract with the Rams? ” Studying your butt off,” he said. “That’s all you can do.”

It’s all about the playbook and learning its content. “It’s just taking time to be disciplined and studying,” Perez said.

That certainly jived with Rams coach Sean McVay’s philosophy of taking things one day at a time, which focuses on daily improvement.

“You certainly want to establish a little bit of patience as well, not expecting [the rookies] to get everything,” McVay said. “And that’s part of what coaching is — is helping them work through those problems, giving them solutions, and then let’s get better together.”

With Perez on the roster, the Rams are now four deep at quarterback. Is he gunning for Jared Goff’s starting spot? For now, Perez is being diplomatic about it.

“I’m here to compete with myself and be the best that I can be and the rest will take care of itself,” he said.

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