BOISE - Gabe Perez has certainly taken the long way to his redshirt senior season for Boise State.
The current linebacker has been limited to just five games of action over the last two years due to three different shoulder surgeries, forcing Perez to answer a difficult question this off-season when debating whether or not to give up the game of football.
"Yeah, I thought about it, but then again, I thought about 20 years from now, if I would regret it, if I had one more year and it's like, I might as well, I'm here, I don't want to regret it," said Perez.
"A lot of guys, I don't think keep attacking that challenge like he did, and when guys see him out there, I know certainly as coaches, you kind of sit there and it inspires you and you love that he's got that type of heart and that mindset and he brings a lot to the table," said Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin.
Perez made an immediate impact on the Boise State defensive line his first two seasons (2013 and 2014), combining for 14.5 tackles for loss and 6 sacks during those two years.
He suffered a torn labrum in fall camp two years ago, using the 2015 season to redshirt and rehab.
He returned for the start of the 2016 season, but suffered a torn labrum in his other shoulder just five games into the season. While difficult to endure yet another season-ending injury, Perez tried to use his time out productively.
"It allows me to learn the scheme of the game, help out younger guys, my role may not be the way I want it to be, but I can help everyone else out," said Perez.
Attacking rehab this offseason for a second straight year, the California native enters his final fall camp as the only senior atop the current Boise State defensive depth chart at a new linebacker position, a switch from his first two seasons at the STUD position, a move that excites the 6-4, 246 pound Perez.
"It excited me, but I just want to help the team out. If I'm out there, wherever they want me at, different position, I don't care, I just want to play and help the team out," said Perez.
"Gabe is a fantastic leader. The leadership, him being out there, and a guy that he doesn't have to say a whole lot, and I think guys just look, and when he's out there, it's better," said Coach Harsin.
Perez’s size at the linebacker spot allows the Broncos defense versatility against the different offenses they will face this fall, from the pass-happy, air-raid Washington State employs to the option-attack offenses that Air Force and New Mexico traditionally use.
He’s been around so long, he’s the only player on Boise State’s roster this fall to have played in a game with Chris Petersen as head coach. It may have meant taking a longer route than expected, but Perez is grateful for one final go-around.
"Every day I'm excited once I step on that grass field. I enjoy every rep, every snap. I don't think I've smiled as much since I've been here, I'm out there smiling, dancing around, just having fun. Just enjoying it, because not too many people get the chance that we get to play, especially on the blue, and I just enjoy every day," said Perez.