The Van Alstyne Panther football team will honor one of its smallest senior classes in recent memory on Friday when eight players and their parents make a final entrance into Panther Stadium.
It’s safe to say that none have overcome the litany of obstacles encountered by Matthew Perez, the Panther’s extra point specialist.
Back in late 1994, Matthews’ parents, Daniel and Arlene, were expecting an addition to the family a few weeks into the new year. Matthew had other ideas, and on December 21, 1994, 23 days early, he decided to make an appearance.
With that early entrance, Matthew and the family embarked on a litany of health issues with which they had to manage.
Hearing and sight was affected by his early birth and he was not allowed to come home until May, spending those first critical months in Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. He had five major surgeries in the first few years of his life. For that first year at home, Matthew had around-the-clock professional nursing care.
At the time, the family was living in Wylie, and when Matthew’s older brother Daniel was in Birmingham Elementary School, the principal was current VAISD Superintendent Dr John Spies. A typical older brother, Daniel was the only person allowed to pick on Matthew and he was very protective towards his brother during those early years.
"Daniel was always very protective towards his brother, seeing what Matthew had to go through growing up, he was always there for Matthew." Arlene told us.
The family moved to Van Alstyne in 2001 and Matthew went right into the regular classroom.
He had to go through speech therapy for the first few years but those days are, thankfully, behind him and the family.
From an early age, Matthew was exposed to soccer.
"There was always a soccer ball around the house and his grandmother used to hold him up before he could walk, and let him kick the ball." Matthew’s father Daniel told us.
His skills in soccer transferred over to the football field where he became the kicking specialist on the junior varsity team. Coach Jimmy Haynes has a special name for Matthew, calling the slightly-built kicker, "The jalapeno on a stick"
"Matthew loves that name and he is very fond of Coach Haynes" said Arlene.
We asked his parents if they had concerns about Matthew playing this full-contact sport.
"I think all parents are concerned due to the nature of the game, but we wouldn’t deprive him of the satisfaction he gets from being a part of the team and competing." Daniel said.
"In his position as a kicker, if everything goes right, he is okay, but he’s such a little guy we get nervous sometime watching him play."
We asked Panther coach Mikeal Miller about Matthew’s contributions to the team.
"Matt is all heart and he has played a big role in what success we have had this season. He gets along well with everybody on the team; he and Collin (Fagan) work together to make our team better." Miller said of the two kickers.
"Nobody outworks him, that’s for sure. He’s always wanting to do more to get better."
We also got a chance to visit with Matt prior to a practice session to check out his practice and game routines.
"The special teams go out at about 6:30 and do our stretching and everything, then we get off some practice kicks." Matthew told us.
"We checkout the wind and condition of the field if we are playing away from home."
Matthew is normally used as the extra point kicker and he is used on the shorter field goal tries.
His size, 5-6 and about 125 pounds after a quarter-pounder, limits his effective distance.
After a couple of misses early in the season, Matthew has been Mr Consistent in the Panthers most recent games. He booted his first field goal of the season last week at Howe, a 21-yard kick, and he has made 34-of-36 extra point kicks.
When talking about his kicking duties, Matthew always gives credit to his "battery," long-snapper Zach Madison and holder Riley Sprowl. Each have to execute their parts of the effort in order to have success.
As you can see by that impressive 2013 record, they have had considerable success.
On Friday night, when Matthew gets to make that walk across the turf at Panther Stadium, parents Daniel and Arlene, and perhaps his older brother Daniel, will be there to support him, just as they have been since the beginning.