Even as a freshman at Northwest Whitfield, David Perez saw himself playing soccer beyond his high school days.
That vision will become a reality at Lee University.
Perez, a striker, verbally committed in June to attend the school in Cleveland, Tenn., and said he will receive a partial athletic scholarship from Lee’s soon-to-be NCAA Division II program. Perez, who said he will sign soon, had 18 assists and broke the Bruins’ single-season scoring record this year with 25 goals. The previous record was 21 goals, set in 2012 by Giovanni Aguero, who was also a senior this season.
Perez said he knew he was capable of earning the opportunity to play in college.
“I’ve always wanted to stay playing soccer at a high level,” he said. “It was always a question of how I could do that. I really thought I could do it personally, but I had to put a lot of work into it.”
Bruins coach Ryan Scoggins remembers a younger Perez with those dreams.
“Even as a ninth- and 10th-grader, David always talked about playing at the college level,” said Scoggins, Northwest’s coach since 2002. “He did all the work himself. We just needed to build him up and encourage him.”
Perez expects to play striker at Lee, which is coached by Paul Furey, who is preparing for his third year leading the program. The Flames finished 9-8-1 last season while competing as a member of the National Intercollegiate Association of Athletics and lost in the Southern States Athletic Conference championship.
This year they will begin the transition to NCAA Division II, where they will begin competing for postseason awards starting with the 2015-2016 season.
For the next two years, the program won’t be able to compete for NCAA Division II postseason spots or conference titles, but the Flames will play a Gulf South Conference regular-season schedule. Lee will compete for postseason championships in the Mid-East Region of the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA).
Lee wasn’t the first option considered by Perez, whose quickness is perhaps his best asset. Scoggins said Perez was consistently quicker than anyone who defended him this season.
“For a lot of the season, David thought he would go play at Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C.,” Scoggins said. “During the midst of the playoff run, he kind of decided he might want to play somewhere closer to home. So I started calling coaches at local colleges in the Northwest Georgia or Southeast Tennessee area. ... I had several coaches who responded or were interested. Lee’s coach really seemed like he was looking for another striker, and David is a talented striker.”
One thing that caught Perez’s eye at Lee was its education program.
“Of course, I know they have a really good soccer program,” he said. “So I was looking forward to that and continuing my career in that, but it also had a good academic side to add on to that.”
Perez played a vital role in the Bruins’ run to the Georgia High School Association Class 4A state semifinals this season, the deepest postseason run in program history. Northwest was one of three teams from inside Whitfield County to reach that portion of the playoffs. The Bruins lost 2-0 in overtime to Southeast Whitfield, which lost 5-0 to Dalton in the state championship. Northwest finished 16-6 overall and was the runner-up to Dalton in Region 7. As a junior, Perez helped the Bruins go 14-6 overall and reach the Class 4A quarterfinals after the team won a state playoff — it was just their second appearance — for the first time.
He was selected for The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Boys Soccer team each of the past two season, and last month he played in the Stump on Sports Tennessee-Georgia All-Star Boys Soccer Classic, where he earned Georgia Player of the Game honors.
He still feels there is room to improve before beginning his college career.
“I’m trying to go to the gym more,” said Perez, who is 5 feet, 7 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds. “I’m not the biggest guy and I play forward. Center forward especially is one of the positions where you want a bigger guy. I think I have the ability to move around a lot.
“One thing I have to work on is going to the gym and improve my thighs. I won’t get much taller. I won’t get to be 6 feet tall, but my size and my quickness (can change).
“You can always get quicker.”