The Comeback Kid: Rio Rico's Ricky Perez - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

The Comeback Kid: Rio Rico's Ricky Perez

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A river wants to run.

It has a need to carve out its space; even when it can't cut straight through, a river always finds a way to flow.

"I'm just trying to go out there and prove to the world that I'm still here." Ricky Perez talks from a chair at UMC-Banner hospital. He's missing another Rio Rico football practice, a season after being one of the leading running backs in all of Southern Arizona. A year ago - Perez had 1,235 yards and 15 touchdowns. Now, tubes and injections.

"He can put up big plays whenever he wants to," said quarterback Albert Sosa. Sosa and Perez have played together since they were little, and Sosa has been amazed for years at Perez's abilities on the field.

The pads are popping on the Hawks practice field as Rio Rico  is trying to turn around a slow start to their season. At this point, they are 1-3, and on this day of practice they work their drills without number four.

He's 60 miles north, where the rivers of his blood are being filled with a slow drip of poison.

"It feels like you've hit rock bottom," said Perez, while injected with a drop into a port in his chest, filling his veins with poison that will save his final season, that will save his cherished passion, that will save his life.

"During spring ball I felt great," said Perez. "I felt like I was on top of the world, then well just suddenly it came out of nowhere."

In late May, Ricky Perez started to feel off.

"I just started feeling a little bit of fatigue, and I told my mom I need to get this checked," said Perez. First, the family went to his primary physician, but right away that doctor sent Perez to a urologist.

"From there, the doctor said it's a tumor," said Blanca Perez, Ricky's mother.

The diagnosis: Stage 1 Testicular Cancer. The doctors moved quickly to remove the tumor, successfully, but, after the surgery to remove the tumor, the fight wasn't over yet.

"They found two other tumors in my body, and they had to start chemo." One tumor was at the bottom of his lung, and the other on a lymph node in his stomach. According to his oncologist, Dr. Lisa Kopp, his germ cell tumor responds best to chemotherapy. Unfortunately, the treatment would keep him out six months - the duration of his senior football season.

"I felt horrible, I just felt like I was losing everything," said Perez. "They had already told me you're not going to be able to play."

"Once he was diagnosed, it was never about the sickness, it was about the football. When am I getting back to football? is my season over?" said Blanca.

Ricky responded well to the chemo, but the treatment took its toll.

"It just takes everything out of you," said Ricky. "You can't do anything, you just have to wait until you start feeling better."

He lost size - 25 pounds - weight he needs to continue getting interest from Division 1 schools like San Diego and Northern Arizona University after a standout junior season.

"He was so happy because he was being scouted," said Blanca. "And everything suddenly changed."

But he did gain back time; six months became four months with his strength, the support of his friends, and the love of his family.

"As tough as you think you are, you need someone there constantly," said Ricky.

"He really needs us," said Sosa. "Really needs us, (we're) always texting him, calling him, seeing how he is."

"Just basically pushing him and telling him this is going to be over, you're strong you never start anything and leave it there, you're getting through this," said Blanca.

"My mom and my grandma have been here since we started chemo, since we got diagnosed," said Ricky. "It's just my whole family, it's amazing, I wouldn't have been able to do it without it them. The way (my mother) handles things, how she tries to just to be there constantly, has been amazing."

All throughout chemo, Ricky still went to practice. Four days after his final chemotherapy session, doctors cleared him to hit.

"It's just amazing what he's able to do mentally," said Rio Rico head coach Zach Davila.

He set his goal to play in a game September 15 at Rincon High, less than 4 months after his diagnosis, just one week after his final chemo treatment.

The Perez family made the hour-long drive from Rio Rico to watch Ricky play. The Hawks had practiced a deep route for Ricky for the team's first offensive play, but the ball was overthrown. In the second quarter, Perez started to show flashes of his old talent - catching a 25 yard pass. In total, he would catch three passes for 70 yards in the air, but it was his two rushes that got the most cheers.

Down big late, Perez - who was supposed to be limited to eight plays (but played many more) - lined up at running back for the first time. His first carry was a strong five yard run to get the Hawks to the two yard line. The next play - touchdown.

"Our mindset is let's get Ricky the ball," said Davila. "When Ricky scores, we all score."

Finally, the sweet emotion of six points.

"It's crazy what you can accomplish," said Perez.

"Cancer messed with the wrong person," said Carlos Davila, the father of head coach Zach Davila, who works closely with Ricky as a school security guard and team equipment manager.

Ricky Perez wants to run. He has a need to catch, to it. Perez wasn't afforded an easy path straight through. But after all, a river always finds a way to flow.

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