To the students at P.S. 24 in Jersey City, he’s known as Mr. Perez, the strict dean of discipline.
The rest of the time, he’s recognized as Pastor Perez, the ecumenical and inspirational lead minister of the Church of God of Prophecy in Newark.
But to sports fans in the area, he’s still Carlos Perez, the Hoboken High School graduate who went on to be a star wide receiver at the University of Florida and eventually was part of the Philadelphia Eagles team that lost in Super Bowl XXXIX to the New England Patriots, 24-21, on Feb. 6, 2005.
When Perez arrived in Hoboken from his native Dominican Republic at the age of 9, he didn’t have a clue what the sport of football was.
“I was a baseball player in the Dominican, like everyone else,” Perez said. “I didn’t even know what a football was. Baseball was all that we played.”
Perez played baseball when he came to the United States and didn’t play organized football until he enrolled at Hoboken, where he was introduced to the sport by another Red Wing legend, Tyrell Dortch, the eventual Michigan State player who is perhaps the best running back to ever play at Hoboken.
“Tyrell was the one who taught me the game,” Perez said. “I didn’t understand it at all. I just liked to run, so I used to get the ball and run. Tyrell would tell me not to let anyone catch me.”
The two friends were the most fleet of foot of the Red Wings.
“I used to race Tyrell and I beat him all the time,” Perez laughed.
While Perez didn’t become a running back like his buddy, then-coach Ed Stinson felt that playing wide receiver would be more beneficial to Perez and the team.
“At first, I wanted to be a running back,” Perez said. “I used to watch Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith and want to be like them. But I had no concept of hitting the hole. A lot of what I did was just raw and wild. But I could catch the ball. I did a lot of body catching back then. Coach Stinson was running workouts on Saturday mornings and he singled me out as someone who could catch the ball.”
On their own, the coach and player worked on developing Perez as a receiver.
“He would stand five yards away from me and launch the ball right at me,” Perez said. “That’s how I learned to catch with my hands. I started the next season as a receiver. I was upset when Coach Stinson moved me from running back, but I guess he saw something in me.”
Perez helped Hoboken win two NJSIAA Group III state championships, in 1998 and 1999, earning All-State honors in the process. He signed a national letter of intent to go to the University of Florida.
“To be honest, I appreciate that all a lot more now,” Perez said. “I didn’t realize the significance of winning state championships, being All-State and going to a big school like Florida. Until I got to Florida, I didn’t realize how great it was. I realized it was a privilege and an honor. I was still learning the game in college.”
Perez had a fine career at Florida, catching 108 passes for more than 1,000 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns. He helped the Gators to two Southeast Conference championships and a win in the Orange Bowl.
After Florida, Perez thought he was going to be drafted by an NFL team.
“During the draft, I was getting a lot of calls from teams, but I didn’t understand the process,” Perez said. “I got a call the second day of the draft from the [Washington] Redskins saying that they were going to take me in the fifth round.”
But that didn’t happen. Perez was slowed by a quad injury during the NFL Draft Combine, so that may have hurt his chances of being selected.
“I was so upset about not getting drafted,” Perez said. “I cried all day.”
His emotions changed a day later.
“The day after the draft, I got a phone call from the Eagles, saying that they wanted to sign me,” Perez said. “I dried my tears, went to church and said to God, ‘Maybe this is the way life is supposed to be.’ I thought maybe this is what God wanted.”
Perez signed with the Eagles in April 2004 and went to training camp with the club. He was among the same receiving corps as Terrell Owens, Freddie Mitchell, and Todd Pinkston. Eventually, Perez was placed on the practice squad, but remained an active member of the team in practices and workouts.
“I learned a lot from those guys and gained a lot of respect,” Perez said.
Sure enough, in his first year in the NFL, Perez was able to go to the Super Bowl against the Patriots in Jacksonville.
“It was an amazing experience,” Perez said. “I was in awe. There were so many famous people around. I met Will Smith and Alicia Keys. It was surreal. I remember being on the field and hearing the National Anthem. I remember thinking that people never get a chance to be on the field, and here I am, a little guy from the Dominican Republic and Hoboken, on the field for the Super Bowl. I was super blessed. Now, I can appreciate that more.”
Perez still has the ID tags he wore during Super Bowl week and treasures the jersey he wore.
“There was nothing like it,” Perez said. “Much like my entire football life, God put me in position to win a championship. I never knew what it was like to be on a losing team. I went from Hoboken and winning state championships to Florida and winning the SEC and the Orange Bowl. Now, I go to the NFL and my team goes to the Super Bowl. That’s a blessing.”
Although the Eagles lost, Perez cherishes those days.
After the Super Bowl, the Eagles sent Perez to Amsterdam to play in the now-defunct World League. Sure enough, Amsterdam won the World Bowl, with Perez a key figure in the win. He earned yet another championship ring.
“Two from Hoboken, two from Florida, the Orange Bowl, the NFC Championship with the Eagles and the World Bowl,” Perez said.
In 2005, Perez went to training camp with the idea of earning a spot on the Eagles’ roster.
“I was in the best shape ever, working out with my personal trainer Louie Turso,” Perez said. “I led the team in receptions in the preseason. I caught a 33-yard touchdown pass against the Ravens. I thought I was locked in, but after the preseason, the Eagles released me.”
Perez tried to catch on with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, but to no avail. He ended up playing for the Philadelphia Soul of the Arena Football League, the team owned by rocker Jon Bon Jovi, but retired after one season.
Perez returned to Hoboken, got the teaching gig in Jersey City, and became an assistant coach at Ferris and later Union City High School for seven years.
“Coaching did a lot for me,” Perez said. “I figured it was God’s will for me to give back, and I accepted his will.”
Perez had to resign his coaching position because of his commitments as a pastor. He’s held the position of Pastor at the Church of God of Prophecy since March.
“I learned that you have to enjoy the moment in everything in life,” Perez said. “You don’t think about it much at the time, but you have to remember everything about the moment, because you never know. I had a dream and was able to live it out. There are a lot of kids from Hoboken, from Jersey City, from Hudson County who have those dreams. Every kid who puts on a uniform has that dream of being in a Super Bowl. I was blessed to be there.”
Perez was asked if he is excited that the upcoming Super Bowl will be played six miles away from his hometown in MetLife Stadium in February.
“It’s going to be amazing,” Perez said. “When I experienced the Super Bowl, there was a lot of excitement in Jacksonville. I can’t imagine the buzz it will have here. It’s going to be amazing, and if the Giants make it, it will be totally bananas. I can’t wait.”—07030
Photos by Jim Hague