Jesus Perez wanted to enjoy it while it lasted.
Perez, Morton’s dynamic two-sport talent in soccer and basketball, is far from done with his athletic endeavors. He has an offer to play soccer at Lewis University, and is exploring the possibility of playing both sports for at least one year in college.
But this spring season, as abbreviated and disjointed as it was, marked an end for Perez.
“I tried to enjoy it as much as I can, especially with the team that I had,” Perez said. “It will probably be my last time playing on a team like that with guys I grew up playing soccer with. I tried to make it as competitive as possible.”
Circumstances beyond Perez’s control prevented him from realizing some achievements. A COVID-19 quarantine cut short his basketball season, keeping Morton from competing in the West Suburban Conference tournament. It also kept him out of Morton’s first two soccer matches, including an overtime loss to Lyons, a team Perez never lost to in high school. The Mustangs, second in Class 3A in 2019, were unable to make another postseason run with the playoffs not being held this spring.
But Perez also closed out his career with a flourish, scoring two goals and the game-winner to beat Leyden 4-3 in the season finale. It clinched Morton’s ninth straight West Suburban Gold title and ran its divisional win streak to 54 straight games.
“For it being our last game, and that last game being the game for the championship, it put some pressure on us. We didn’t want to lose that record,” Perez said. “Honestly, the way I thought of it, it was my last game, the season was short, I felt I had to make it like a state playoff game. From the beginning, it felt like a playoff game.”
Perez’s performance in the final game, with the winner in the 69th minute, gave him 10 goals and 11 assists this season. Morton went 8-0-1 in the nine games he played in, the lone blemish a tie with Oak Park-River Forest in a game in which the Huskies’ goalkeeper saved a missile from Perez into the post with five seconds left.
Perez, also an All-Area pick in basketball, finished his four-year varsity career with 46 goals and 46 assists. But those statistics hardly scratch the surface to what Perez meant to Morton, or define him as a player.
“Every time he is on the field there are two guys on him, sometimes three run to him, but he’s such a selfless player,” Morton coach Jim Bageanis said. “He is a true competitor. He wants to win and he doesn’t care who scores or gets the assists. He is OK with dragging two or three defenders away from the play. He feels just as important doing those things because they are just as important as putting the ball in the net. It’s been a joy having him for four years.”
Perez, also an electric talent on the basketball court at point guard, started taking both seriously around the fifth or sixth grade.
Bageanis has coached many talented players at Morton over the years, but Perez’s speed separates him. He took over the Addison Trail with two goals and an assist. At this point it’s hard for Bageanis to identify one moment that stood above the rest.
“He just has that extra gear speed-wise,” Bageais said. “I’ve only seen a few guys that are as fast as him, and a couple guys who are faster, and they are playing professionally. He is one of the fastest three kids I’ve seen in 25 years. The athletic ability, the unselfishness, he’s the whole package. I probably coached him for 90 games and the kid never said ‘No, I don’t want to do that.’ He’s always been willing to do whatever is best for the team.”
Perez said he’s leaning toward the soccer side in college, but admitted it’s tough to relinquish one sport for the other.
“It’s tough. I really love basketball and the environment, and I’ve played both for so long,” Perez said. “I talked to the soccer coach at Lewis and he told me it’s possible [to play both], you just have to be disciplined. I’m that type of person that whatever I have to do, I’m going to do it.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle