UPPER CHICHESTER >> Jovani Perez is the living embodiment of a popular cliche: Don’t judge a book by its cover.
In this case, don’t judge a 5-foot-4 nose guard/fullback by his physical appearance. If you underestimate the Chichester senior, chances are you’ll pay dearly for it.
“Growing up I depended on, well, maybe I’ll grow taller someday,” Perez said after practice Tuesday. Chichester (3-1) hosts Academy Park (2-2) Friday night in the teams’ Del Val League opener. “Once I realized I wasn’t going to get there, I just said the heck with it and I might as well use what I got.”
“My whole thing is, don’t back down from anyone bigger than you because everyone’s going to be bigger than you.”
Those are words Perez can live by. He has excelled on the gridiron and as a standout wrestler at Chichester. Ryan Smith, Perez’s football coach, calls him “a personality … and a fun, smart kid.” Perez is an honors student and a member of the school chess club.
“That’s something I learned back in my old school, when I was younger,” Perez said.
But how does a kid the height of Jovani Perez get to be a starting nose guard and fullback?
“I used to be a safety my freshman year. Come sophomore year, my coach told me I’d be switching over to the D-line. I was confused because I was so little,” he said. “But it started to come to me, and I started to see what the coaches were talking about.”
Perez believes he doesn’t have to out-strength opponents who, in some cases, might be twice his size.
“I tend not to use power because they have to move 160 pounds and I have to move 220-plus,” he said. “I don’t try to power-up against somebody most of the times. If it’s there, I’ll use it. But I like to use speed and be lower than them at all times because very rarely am I going to see somebody that’s eye-level.”
And what about the mental aspect of being a 5-foot-4 lineman? Football players love to trash-talk, and Perez is often an easy target based on his lack of height.
“Hey, little man. What are you going to do?”
Perez cannot be intimidated.
“A couple times, kids start to talk trash,” he said. “But then they get it the next play. When they’re on their back, and I’m standing over looking at them, they’re not going to say anything again.”
When you combine smarts with talent and confidence, Perez is quite the package.
“There’s a lot to like about him,” Smith said. “You can have a nice back-and-forth conversation with him. He’s an honors student. It’s good to have a quality young person in the program, for starters. I think he understands he’s a fireplug, he’s a total weight room kid. He’s a huge squatter, a huge bencher. I think he takes his physical stature, whatever you want to call it, and makes it a strength.”
Perez and the Eagles will have their hands full Friday night when Academy Park comes to down. If you ask Perez, he’ll tell you this isn’t the same Chi team that has struggled once it has reached the Del Val League portion of its schedule.
Chichester and AP are both coming off bye weeks. In their last game, the Eagles destroyed Phoenixville, 34-7. Senior athlete Rashaad Shaw has given the Eagles a big jolt this season. Shaw is first on the team scoring touchdowns (seven), second in rushing yardage (150) and first in both receptions (14) and receiving yardage (257). Quarterback Andrew Rodriguez is enjoying a solid campaign. He has completed 56.9 percent of his pass attempts with 464 yards and five TDs.
The Eagles, like Perez, are ready to show Delaware County that they are no pushover.
“We said this as soon as we set up the roster — this is a different year and this is not Chi football like you’ve seen it before,” Perez said. “We are out for the Del Val and nothing’s going to stop us. There’s no reason why we can’t beat AP, Penn Wood, Interboro … all of them. There’s no reason why we can’t beat them. The past doesn’t explain who were are because now we’re a whole different team.”