At San Jose State, Mike Perez is called "Sweet P," which is not to be confused with Sweet Pea.
This is, after all, a quarterback who has been called for such an obscure penalty as roughing the rusher and who, at 6 feet 2 inches and 210 pounds, is more in the mold of a Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. linebacker than a passer.
Not long ago, he was a non-recruited player from an inner-city school, Denver South High. In 1984, he was no more than a backup quarterback at a community college. He threw 58 passes that year at Taft College.
But last season, he rose from obscurity--or someplace less famous than that--and led San Jose State to a 10-2 record, the PCAA title and a California Bowl victory over Miami of Ohio. And, not incidentally, he led the nation in total yardage.
Just that quickly, he has become the PCAA's latest passer extraordinaire. For four years, it has been Kevin Sweeney of Fresno State, who concluded his career by replacing Doug Flutie as the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.'s all-time leader in passing yardage.
Sweeney passed for 2,363 yards last season, Perez for 2,934, despite missing two games with a separated right shoulder. With two years left, Perez will not threaten Sweeney's record--that will be left to Todd Santos of San Diego State. But it appears that he will once again dominate the PCAA.
Jeff Graham of Cal State Long Beach, who threw for 2,924 yards, also returns this year. But Perez likely will overshadow him, in part because it took Graham 17 more completions and 42 more attempts to gain that yardage, and because first-year Coach Larry Reisbig has promised to balance the offense at Long Beach.
Most of Perez's fame stems from two incidents. The first--the roughing-the-rusher incident--occurred at Pullman, Wash., last September in a game against Washington State.
"It was after I threw the ball," Perez said. "The guy hit me around the neck--and I thought he hit me late. So I turned around and gave him a big fat lip."
Simple as that.
The second occurred in what has become a much ballyhooed game, San Jose State's 45-41 victory over Fresno State last October. Perez threw for 433 yards, completing 33 of 53 attempts, and--remarkably--throwing 2 touchdown passes in the final 42 seconds of a comeback victory.
Simple as that.
With Perez, San Jose State is again the favorite. Fresno State, Nevada Las Vegas and Cal State Fullerton have been picked by coaches and reporters to finish in the top four. A closer look at the conference:
CAL STATE FULLERTON 1986--3-9 overall, 2-5 PCAA (6th)
Coach Gene Murphy jokes that he considers the first games--at Hawaii, at Louisiana State and at Florida--exhibitions, as the Titans try to rebound from their first losing season since 1982.
Rick Calhoun, the Titans' all-time leading rusher, is gone, and with him 4,493 of all-purpose yardage over four years. There are able, if inexperienced, halfbacks to fill in--Eric Franklin, who gained 44 yards in 10 carries in '86; Tracey Pierce, 77 in 25 carries, and impressive newcomer Michael Moore, a community college transfer who rushed for 1,425 yards and 11 touchdowns last year and already has earned kickoff and punt-return duties.
At fullback, Tim Byrnes and William Robinson are more experienced, and will take over for departed starter Mark Hood. Receivers Todd White, who had 41 receptions for 636 yards, and John Gibbs, 28 for 542, are back. Offensive guard Ed Gillies, 6-5 and 260, is the top returning player.
But the offense, which has three capable quarterbacks in starter Ronnie Barber, Tony Dill and Carlos Siragusa, is not the worry. The Titans allowed 25 or more points nine times in 1986, and Murphy speaks plainly about a defensive unit that has only five returning starters, only three of whom figure to continue to start.
CAL STATE LONG BEACH 1986--6-5 overall, 4-3 in PCAA (3rd)
The season that almost wasn't is almost upon the 49ers, and first-year Coach Larry Reisbig, a three-year assistant at Long Beach before taking over late in 1986, says they feel positive now.
"Make no mistake about it, things turned around after December," he said.
University administrators had threatened to discontinue the football program if $300,000 could not be raised by Jan. 1. That goal was exceeded, and the 49ers live to face another season--this one including a game at Michigan Sept. 26.
Reisbig promises a diversified offense this year. Graham attempted 426 passes last year and no player carried the ball 100 times.
Part of the reason the 49ers will move toward ball control is the departure of fullback Mark Templeton, the NCAA all-time reception leader, wide receiver Charles Lockett and tight end Greg Locy. Tyrone McCullouch, son of former USC star Earl McCullouch, and Derek Washington, who caught 14 passes between them, are likely replacements.