H.S. FOOTBALL WEEK 11: Southside's Perez in a rush to win

Coach Ricky Lock, with senior running back Eddie Perez, has guided the Southside Cardinals to the playoffs three times in his four seasons as head coach.  
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Southside High School never has won a football district championship outright since its first season in 1952.

That could change Friday night.

If prolific Cardinals senior running back Eddie Perez has his way, Southside will stand alone at the top of the District 29-5A standings after playing Floresville on the final Friday of the regular season.

“Our goal since the offseason has been to win district,” Perez said Thursday. “That’s what we’ve worked hard for all these months. We also want to be the first Southside football team to win a playoff game.”

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The leading rusher in the San Antonio area, Perez ran for 304 yards in a 55-21 rout of Harlandale last week to push his season total to 2,011. That eclipsed the Southside single-season record of 1,849 yards, set by former teammate Matthew Collier, who graduated last spring.  

The Cardinals, 7-2 overall, head into their regular-season finale tied with Floresville (6-3) for first in the district race at 4-0. The teams clash for the championship at 7:30 Friday at Eschenburg Field in Floresville.

The Tigers beat the Cards 31-17 last year and lead the series 20-5. Floresville has won the last three meetings (2012, 2013, 2016).

Southside clinched the district’s top seed in the 5A Division I playoffs with the win over Harlandale, and has earned a playoff spot for the third time in Lock’s four seasons with the Cards. Southside, 0-6 in the postseason, won a share of a district title in 1992. 

One of the top rushers in the state, Perez has run for his 2,011 yards and scored 25 touchdowns on 223 carries. He is averaging 8.9 yards per attempt and 223.4 yards a game. Perez also has caught two TD passes.

“He can fly. He’s very fast,” Southside coach Ricky Lock said. “He’s always one of the fastest people on the field.”

Perez scored five touchdowns and averaged 13.8 yards per carry in the blowout of Harlandale. The game marked the third time this season Perez has rushed for more than 300 yards, including a 403-yard night against Leander Glenn on Sept. 22.   

“I owe a lot to the guys on the offensive line,” Perez said. “They’re aggressive and I show them my appreciation every day. I love what they do for me and this team to help us win games. It’s not only the line, but the receivers, the tight ends. They block downfield. They’re aggressive, too.”

Senior right tackle Robert Garcia, one of the team’s four captains, anchors the offensive line. The other starters on the line are left tackle Devon Moyet, left guard Steven Botello, center Adan Avila, right guard John Trevino and tight end Steven Quintero. 

Perez, 5-foot-9, and 175 pounds, has been timed at a shade under 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. A sprinter on the Southside track team, he finished second in the 200 meters at the district meet last spring and was the leadoff man on the 800 relay that won the gold medal.

With his speed, quickness, and skills, it doesn’t take much for the offensive line to spring Perez for a long gain.

“All I need is just crease to blast through,” Perez said. “I always tell my linemen, ‘Just give me a crease.’ I often tell them, ‘Don’t stop. Keep blocking, keeping going forward, because I just need that little bit of space to be able to take off.’”

How does it feel to set sail on a long run?

“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s the best feeling in the world. That’s what I imagine in my head before every game. I’m always thinking about it. I’m always picturing myself running. I spend hours and hours thinking about that.”

Perez is as good in the classroom as he is on the football field, ranking 21st in a senior class of 343 with a 95 average. He has taken advancement-placement courses since his sophomore year and attends classes at Palo Alto College in the Early College High Schools program for half a day.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s really a great opportunity. Right now, I’m already a sophomore in college. When I go to a university, I’ll already be a junior from an academic standpoint. By the time I graduate (from high school), I should have 60 hours (of college credit).”

A starting cornerback on the varsity as a sophomore, Perez was sidelined for seven games last season after he broke a hand in the opener against Memorial. He returned against Harlandale in the ninth game of the season, playing running back after Collier separated his shoulder.

Perez rushed for 91 yards and a TD in the win against the Indians, and gave Southside fans a preview of his senior year by running for 151 yards and a TD in the finale against Floresville a week later.

After backing up Collier for two seasons, Perez was eager to become the Cards’ starting running back. “I worked very hard to be ready,” he said.

Perez, a team captain, is among 20 seniors who were freshmen when Lock succeeded Paul Haberer as head coach in 2014. Southside was dealt a blow in this season’s opener when two senior starters, quarterback Johnny Herrera and inside linebacker Derrion Sendejo, went down with season-ending knee injuries. Both were captains.  

“No one freaked out,” Perez said. “We were ready to step up. The coaches moved some people around and they were ready to play.”

Sophomore Alejandro Escamilla stepped in at quarterback and has done a solid job, completing 40 of 72 passes for 774 yards and nine TDs. He has been intercepted only once. Senior Aaron Lopez and junior Perfecto Doria have split time at Sendejo’s linebacker position.

“This senior class has done a good job, and that’s why we’re in the position we’re in,” said Lock, who is 23-18 at Southside. “I think our team has consistently gone to work and just gotten better every week.”

That hard work could pay big dividends Friday night if Perez gets his way.