Stephen Perriera knows pain. He’s a football player, after all.
But he’s felt more than just the bumps and bruises that come with being a lineman. He felt the burn through summer workouts and through conditioning for his first season of tackle football as a freshman.
He felt the hurt as a starting sophomore on the Tracy High varsity football team in 2005, when the Bulldogs went 1-9. He felt it again last year when the ’Dogs came close to clinching a playoff spot but were destroyed by Lincoln on the season’s last night.
Though that last one didn’t feel quite as bad. It sure beat standing on the sidelines.
Perriera missed all of his junior season, save the one game, because he tore the ACL in his right knee in the Bulldogs’ lone win in 2005. Initially misdiagnosed with a sprain, Perriera managed to come back in time to play the 2005 Lincoln game on the bum knee — and walked away with Tracy’s Offensive Lineman of the Year award.
“I didn’t really notice it when I was walking around too much,” he said. “I just thought it was a sprain thing … just sore, but it didn’t go away.”
He can still remember the hit and the play. On the opposite side of the field on a “tackle-over” series, Perriera took his man and tried to turn him inside. During the push, his cleat got stuck in the long turf at Bear Creek’s north Stockton stadium, and his knee twisted out from under him.
“I went down automatically — it hurt so bad,” he recalled Wednesday. “I didn’t want to get up. I was freaking out.”
Even with the knee grotesquely swollen after the hit, it took Perriera only two weeks to get back on the field. It wasn’t until tryouts for basketball — the preferred sport for the gentle-looking but huge 6-foot-3, 240-pounder — when the knee collapsed twice, that he knew something was wrong.
He and his parents went to Kaiser Permanente in Stockton for an MRI, and the bad news came — the anterior cruciate ligament was completely gone.
He had two options: arthroscopic surgery, which would mean an end to his sporting career, or complete reconstruction. The choice was easy.
He underwent reconstruction surgery in February 2006. Rehabilitation took longer than doctors expected, leaving Perriera on the sidelines throughout the summer and fall.
“Him not coming back was a big blow to us last year,” said Tracy coach Mark Stroup, who labeled Perriera a “model citizen student.”
He ran water to and from huddles, worked the chain gang and kept as connected to the team as he could. Finally cleared to play after nine months of rehab, he jumped off the examination room table and engulfed his doctor — all 5 feet of her — in a bear hug.
Now, he’s out to make up for lost time, though the brace he wears will be a constant reminder of how fragile it all truly is.
“When it first happened, reality it hit me hard,” he said. “Before the play, I thought there was no chance of me getting hurt. And then, just like that, you know. Like it was nothing.”