By USA TODAY High School Sports | August 9, 2017 3:56 pm ET
Ricky Perez has gone through two chemotherapy sessions and has two more to go.
But despite a port in his chest, a grim diagnoses of testicular cancer and the recurrence of two more tumors in his body, the Rio Rico senior running back and team captain puts on the pads and gets out and practices, working as if he will open the high school football season with his teammates on Aug. 18 at Tucson Catalina.
“I’ve been practicing with them as much as I can,” said the 5-foot-9 Perez, who is down to 142 pounds from his weight of 160 he played at last season when he ran for more than 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns, the team’s bright spot in a 4-6 season in 4A.
“I suit up with them. I can’t do any contact. I suit and do as much as I can take.”
The 17-year-old is an inspiration to his family, his friends, his coaches and teammates.
“He’s a fighter,” said senior quarterback David Sosa, who has grown up with Perez and is one of his closest friends. “It’s not going to stop him from doing the thing he loves, and the thing he loves is play football. I’ve known him since Day 1, and he’ll do what he loves.”
A tumor was removed in the groin area, and it was diagnosed as testicular cancer.
He missed the last two weeks of spring football, and went through chemo. He had more CT scan and two more tumors were discovered – one in his stomach and the other below his lung.
“We thought we took care of it after the first surgery,” Perez said. “But after that, they found two other areas.”
Perez’s next round of chemotherapy begins Aug. 14, four days before Rio Rico’s opener. It will consist of five straight days of chemo, he said, 21 days of rest, then another round of chemo.
After that, if the tumors are gone, if he is clear of cancer, he will play. And he envisions great things.
“It depends on what the doctors say,” Perez said. “I can’t say when I’ll be back, but I really want to play this year. After the chemo sessions, I have to get my port removed from my chest.
“The linemen I have are my best friends. We would talk about it, having at least 2,000 yards this season.”
Coach Zach Davila has no doubt at what Perez can accomplish. He is hoping to have him lead the team on the field the second half of the season.
“He is physically and mentally the strongest kid I’ve ever coached,” Davila said. “He has a tremendous support system from his family, friends and football team. He has been nothing but positive with the challenge he has been given and continues to be a leader for the team.”
Sosa says Perez still practices as hard as he ever did.
“He told me it’s not about life he is worried about, but doing what he loves,” Sosa said. “We see him in a good mood and it puts everyone in a good mood. When he’s down, we pick him right back up. He’s not alone in this.”
Before the cancer, Perez was voted team captain, a role he takes to heart.
“This gave me more of a reason to lead by example and lead by what the situation is with me, to show them I’m going through hell right now, but I’m still out there to get them better and myself,” he said. “They see that because I barely got out of chemo sessions and I’m here. I’m not going to quit on my teammates and they’re there for me.”