Air Force junior Gilberto Perez got a relatively late start in football, but he never saw a need to play catch-up. Perez grew up playing every sport but football — baseball, wrestling and judo chief among them. “All the different sports I played growing up helped me in football,” Perez said. “You’d be surprised. You work different muscles with every sport you do. I can work all the muscles in football that I’ve used already.” Air Force is counting on those muscles more than ever this season. Not only is Perez moving into a starting position at defensive end for the first time, but he also has been touted by coach Fisher DeBerry as Air Force’s “next great player” and one reason the Falcon defense can improve after struggling in 2004. That’s a pretty high bar for a player with one career start. “He has all the talent as far as the mindset, the attitude to be there,” defensive coordinator Richard Bell said. “Yeah, we’re expecting big things from him.” Perez didn’t begin playing football until his freshman year of high school and went out for the team without even knowing the basic rules. Because he grew up in a Cuban neighborhood of Tampa, Fla., baseball was the only sport that really mattered. But Perez’s athletic ability has come through quickly. And he still seems to be developing at a rapid pace. “I’d take him over anyone else in this country on the line,” senior nose guard Russ Mitscherling said. “On a pass rush, he’ll keep rushing to the quarterback until he’s no longer in the pocket. Then after the ball’s thrown, he’ll turn around and sprint. I’ve seen him run down some running backs. He’s got speed. When he was in there last year, he was making a difference.” Perez said he was happy with his reserve role last season. He substituted at all three spots up front in the Falcons’ 3-3-5 scheme. That versatility came in handy when, after he showed rapid improvement in the final four games, the coaches shifted him from primarily a nose guard to defensive end. “What we need is him and Russ on the field at the same time,” Bell said. “We want them to play the majority of the snaps together.” The idea is that with Mitscherling’s strength inside, Perez could provide a passrushing presence with his speed and athletic ability. “We’ve been working on that a lot this year,” Perez said. “People in our conference really want to throw the ball. They scored a lot of points on us last year, but we’re going to stop the run first. Especially coming from an inside guy, we want to stuff the holes. “But (the coaches) are letting us get on our horse, letting us rock and roll.” Injury concerns Air Force is losing linebackers at an alarming rate. DeBerry said Thursday that team doctors suspect junior Rick Ricciardi has a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee but won’t make a diagnosis until today. If that’s the case, Ricciardi won’t play this season, DeBerry said. Also, Joey Keller, No. 1 on the depth chart at middle linebacker, didn’t practice Thursday because of what appears to be a sprained right ankle. Doctors will know more about his condition today. “I don’t know what extent it is,” DeBerry said. “That would be a real big blow to our football team.” Etc. Rain forced Thursday’s practice inside. . . . Senior center Jon Wilson sat out the last half of practice after a collision that stung him in his surgically repaired left shoulder. Wilson said later he was fine. “It was more scary than anything,” he said. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0258 or email@example.com
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