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Transfer Chris Perez leading resurgence at DePaul Prep

Chris Perez has drawn interest from Division I, Division II and NAIA colleges.

DePaul Prep’s Chris Perez passes the ball during practice.
DePaul Prep’s Chris Perez passes the ball during practice.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

If you had asked Chris Perez four years ago where he saw himself in 2021, this wouldn’t be it.

Then, Perez was heading into his freshman season at Grant, a lifelong lineman since he started playing football at 6 years old.

“I always had the sticker on my helmet so I couldn’t carry the ball,” he said.

But then one day, his path changed.

“My freshman coach said, ‘Who’s going to play quarterback?’ I raised my hand,” Perez said. “It just happened.”

He turned into a pretty good one, winning the varsity job as a sophomore in 2019. Perez was back running the Bulldogs’ offense during the abbreviated pandemic season this spring.

But now he’s getting used to a new school and a new team after moving from Lake County for family reasons and transferring to DePaul Prep. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, considering he actually played two games for the Rams before classes started.

But a lot of his teammates also are his classmates. And when Perez looks around DePaul’s almost-new campus and football stadium, he almost has to pinch himself.

“The building is amazing,” he said, and so is the view of the downtown skyline.

Perez’s play was also something to see. In wins over Payton and Ridgewood, the 6-1, 205-pounder went 20-of-31 passing for 328 yards and eight touchdowns with one interception. He also ran four times for 37 yards and a TD.

DePaul Prep coach Mike Passarella appreciates the good fortune of having a two-year starting quarterback to plug into what already was a veteran offense.

“I was already excited even before Chris [arrived],” Passarella said. “He kind of fell into our lap.”

When Passarella arrived in 2019, the Rams had lost 17 in a row and the school — still in its former location and Addison and California and without a field of its own — had 545 students. He rebooted the program, starting sophomores at 13 positions on a team that finished 3-6.

Now there are 950 students in the new campus across the Chicago River at Melrose and Rockwell. And all of those sophomores are three-year starters after gaining more experience during a 2-4 spring season.

This is the year Passarella was pointing toward, and he had a couple returning quarterbacks. “We had an open competition,” Passarella said.

Perez won the job, thanks both to his skill set and his presence.

“He has those kind of intangibles you don’t really see,” Passarella said. “It’s like having another coach on the field. His ability to go through and read progressions is one of the biggest things for his leadership.”

As his numbers suggest, Perez is what Passarella calls “a traditional pocket guy [though] he can run it when he needs to.”

But Perez — who has drawn interest from Division I, Division II and NAIA colleges — believes he has much to offer after running a variety of offenses and seeing action up front earlier in his career.

“Playing lineman helped me become a better football player,” he said. “I understand what they’re going through.”

He appreciates his current linemen, who did not allow a sack in the first two games. “They don’t get any love for the work they do,” he said.

But Perez loves their effort. and he loves the team and school community that have embraced him for this latest stop on his unusual football journey.

“Chemistry has been building every week,” he said. “Because they’ve all been in the same system [for a few years], they all trust each other. They’re great teammates.”