December 6, 2006 - There's a look of pure intensity on the face of Stephen Perez as he jogs his warm up laps in the humid Mountain View High School wrestling practice room. The stern look will follow him throughout practice, grappling with teammates, running more laps and even while double-checking the weight of his slight frame.
It's only when confronted with the thought of the night's dinner does the senior's eyes grow wide and a smile purses his lips. Tonight is one of the rare occasions when Perez doesn't need to watch his weight. In fact, this evening it's all about bulking up.
"It's the way I live year round," said Perez of the constant task of making weight, adding that a trip to the Olive Garden should easily bump him up to his target goal of 125. "It's a habit now."
It's also become habit for Mountain View opponents to lose to Perez on the mat. This season promises to be no different as the senior leads a young Mountain View wrestling team in its push for a state title.
A team championship is only one of the goals for Perez, who enters the season with an individual mission.
"I'm trying to be the first person in my family to win state," he said.
Perez's first exposure to the mat came courtesy of his father Frank Perez when the senior was just four years old. Frank served his mat time at wrestling powerhouse Flowing Wells High School, where he finished as high as second place in the state tournament.
After a hiatus from the sport, Stephen picked it back up in 7th grade at Tortolita Middle School taking second in the city championships using moves taught to him at home by his father on the family's personal wrestling mat.
"I throw like he did, I do laterals, headlocks, I pretty much got that all from him," said Perez of his father. "He's helping me change my style a bit but mainly now he just pushes me more than teaching me anything."
Starting at 103-pounds as a freshman, Perez powered his way up to 119-pound weight class last season where he took third overall in the Class 5A Division II state tournament - losing to eventual state champ Mikey Moreno of Sunnyside High School.
Perez won't have to go through Moreno - who moves up to the 130-pound class this year - to win a state title. Moving up and standing in his way, however, will be another Sunnyside product, John Garza, who finished second among 112-pounders at state last year.
"He's a tough kid with some good moves," said Mountain View head coach Bob Newman about Perez.
Newman enters his 21st and final season with Mountain View coming off a third place finish at state last year. This year's squad will have its work cut out for it, after losing several key seniors from last year's team.
Perez figures to be among those taking the reigns of a team looking for its seniors to step up.
"He's developing into a leader although still a pretty quiet kid but he's developing into being a little more outspoken and leading more by example," said Newman.
Leading by example means doing what it takes inside the wrestling room and outside. Perez, who will either join the marines or attend the University of Arizona toward a career in law enforcement after high school, jogs three miles daily - two the day before a match.
That leadership will be put to the test early on in the season. On Dec. 6, Perez will get his first shot at Garza when the Mountain Lions host Sunnyside, Rio Rico and Sierra Vista Buena high schools.
Two days later, a rematch is possible when Newman and the school host its annual Mountain View Dual Invitational Tournament.