Ricky Perez got into the end zone, hugged teammates and began to cry.
Four months after being diagnosed with cancer, and a week after finishing his latest rounds of chemotherapy, the Rio Rico senior running back returned in a limited role Friday night and did what he did 15 times last season — he scored a touchdown.
It was an emotional return that stood out in a 50-13 4A football loss to Sahuarita.
Even though Rio Rico lost the game, it was a huge win for the school,for the community, for cancer patients needing a feel-good story. And mostly for Perez.
Perez wouldn’t go as far as calling it a victory over cancer, but it was a huge personal breakthrough.
“I just felt like I accomplished something amazing,” Perez said. “Overall, I just felt victorious.”
Perez’s story was chronicled by azcentral sports in early August, when he had already gone through two chemotherapy rounds for testicular cancer that was diagnosed in May.
He had gone from 160 pounds to 142 but practiced with the team in August until he had to begin his latest rounds of chemo.
The 17-year-old has been an inspiration to his coaches, family, friends and teammates.
When Perez finished up his third round of chemo last Friday, coach Zach Davila told him he would limit his star player to eight plays on offense.
He made the most of them.
He had three catches for 70 yards and two rushing attempts for seven yards and a touchdown.
“I thought Ricky had an incredible performance,” Davila said. “He was given an eight-play limit for the game, even though he felt he could play every down.
“His love and passion for the game are undeniable. As Ricky continues to recover from chemo sessions, his performance will only increase and show he belongs at the next level playing football.”
That is his dream, to play college football.
So far, Perez is going beyond anything anybody expected in his fight against cancer.
“I felt OK, just a little more fatigued,” he said. “But other than that, it was great.”
To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at [email protected] or 602-316-8827. Follow him at twitter.com/azc_obert. Watch azcentral sports high school football Facebook live every Wednesday at 7 p.m.