Written by Matt Wixon
A father at 17, Irving linebacker Omar Perez tackles life's challenges
Teen dad balances football, parenthood, much as his coach did
IRVING — Linebacker Omar Perez’s sack was a “de-cleater,” as described by Irving coach Aaron De La Torre, but the quarterback’s cleats left a mark. Perez ran to the sidelines with a large gash above his left eye.
“I’m all right, coach,” the senior said.
With blood on his face and a thick bandage above his eye, Perez went back into last month’s game against Lewisville. It’s what you might expect from a player who already has 103 tackles for Irving (4-3, 2-2 in District 6-5A), which is trying to make the playoffs for the first time in five years.
“I told the other kids, ‘Look at this guy. He’s Rambo,’” De La Torre said. “He looked like a pirate out there.”
Rambo, pirate, team captain, honor roll student — Perez has been all of those. But another name he answers to reveals how much his life has changed in the last year.
At age 17, Perez is a dad. His son, Romeo, turned 1 earlier this month.
“It’s made me more responsible,” Perez said.
It has also made him an advocate of putting off parenthood. That’s what he tells friends who are enjoying the freedom of the teenage years. Perez lives with his girlfriend, Alyssa, at her mother’s house. The Irving students are raising Romeo together with the help of their parents.
“It’s hard,” Perez said.
He then shook his head and sighed.
“I really don’t want to do that again.”
There’s no turning back, of course, and De La Torre knows that well. The second-year coach, who played football at Stephen F. Austin, became a father when he was 18. De La Torre was a senior at Irving and his girlfriend, Lori, was a senior at Irving Nimitz when they discovered they were expecting a child in 1993.
That child was Alex De La Torre, who was a linebacker at Denton Ryan and is now a sophomore fullback at Texas. Aaron and Lori De La Torre are married and have three children: Alex (19), Adyson (13) and Kolt (8).
“I remember everyone around me saying, ‘Dude, you screwed up your life,’” De La Torre said.
But De La Torre persevered with the help of family and friends. He shares what he learned with his players.
“Don’t let your circumstances make you a victim. We preach that to the kids all the time,” De La Torre said. “Don’t make excuses.”
Perez won’t make any. Eight hours after his son was born last year, Perez was in uniform for Irving and made 19 tackles in a win over Grapevine. In the game that Perez suffered the gash above his eye this season, he finished with 18 tackles.
After that Thursday night game, Perez needed stitches. While waiting at the hospital until well past midnight, he squeezed in an hour of required tutoring and aced a forensics test Friday morning.
Perez doesn’t make excuses; he makes plans. The senior expects to be the first person in his family to attend college, and he wants to be an environmental engineer. He still has a lot to learn about parenthood, but he knows one lesson he wants to teach his son.
“I’ll tell him to be overly dedicated,” Perez said. “I want to be more dedicated than I need to be.”
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