"Mr. Spring Football", Luis Perez: From 9th of 9 QBs to an XFL Ring

Written and Edited by Zach Kangieser

May 26, 2023

   His career spans through no less than five different professional football leagues (six, if you count 2020’s XFL and 2023’s XFL as two different leagues). He had no football experience when he walked on at college, and yet he was still able to start for his team within a year. He has racked up wins and accolades wherever he has gone, and now a championship on the biggest stage he has ever played. To rip off the old Dos Equis commercials, he is… the most interesting man in spring football.

His name is Luis Perez, and like many of his spring football compatriots, he has been grinding in the sector of pro football some may call “the minor leagues” in the hopes of a stable NFL career. Thing is, spring football leagues have existed on and off since the USFL of the eighties, but none have ever managed to compete (nor will they ever do so) with the almighty National Football League. In the last few years, a surplus of new leagues have popped up, all of them holding the philosophy that they could give fringe NFL talent the chance to shine and potentially develop them for the major league. They have had a litany of different owners, philosophies, and ways to stay in business. Some have folded before they could even reach the playoffs of their inaugural season.

Almost all of them have one thing in common: Luis Perez was a starting quarterback for one of their teams. He’s currently been a member of no less than ten different professional teams, a few of whom were NFL practice squads that usually cut him quickly and the rest of whom have been the spring league teams he has continued to cut his teeth with in the hopes of another shot. He has consistently been one of the top performers in any spring league he has played in due to his adaptability and ability to improve on a week-by-week basis. It’s practically a Perez trademark to struggle with his new team for a week or two before heating up as his squad gets to the meat of the season. When you combine that with the experience he's gained over his pro career, you get a formidable opponent late in a season.

That cocktail of capabilities created one of spring football’s most exciting narratives when Perez became the starting QB for the XFL’s Arlington Renegades midway through the 2023 campaign. He performed decently for them in the regular season, doing just enough to get the Renegades into the postseason with a 4-6 record. Then he exploded for 577 yards and 6 touchdowns across two playoff games, scoring upsets over the Houston Roughnecks and DC Defenders en route to winning the XFL Championship, and being named postseason MVP. Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, one of the XFL’s main investors, has since called Perez “an inspiration”, noting that he was exactly the type of player that Johnson hoped the XFL would be able to showcase.

But it was a long road for Perez to get to a pro football championship, and the distinction of being one of the greatest spring football players ever. It took him through junior college, Division II ball and a barrage of different pro teams for him to get to the Renegades, a team that will keep him as long as his services are available. And the road may continue for him, as his end goal remains the same. But as he stands at a unique crossroads, looking to choose between finally finding football stability or taking another crack at the NFL, we as fans can look at the winding road he has traveled to get to this point.

Perez’s Football Beginnings (Up to 2017) 

Perez started out in at the junior college and Division II levels. (Maverick Reed/Jenkins Elite)

Before he walked on to the football program at Southwestern College, a juco in Chula Vista, Perez had no varsity football experience. In his earlier life he was actually an excellent bowler, bowling no less than twelve perfect games before eventually trying junior varsity football in high school. At the JV level, he played a variety of different positions, never getting consistent experience at any one before he graduated from Otay Ranch High School in 2012. When he walked on at Southwestern, Perez decided to do so at the QB position, and ended up being placed ninth of nine QBs on Southwestern’s depth chart in 2013. Somehow, due to a combination of his ability to learn quickly and injuries and transfers of other players, he moved up from ninth to second on the chart by the start of the season.

He ended up quickly starting for the Southwestern Jaguars when the starter went down with an injury early on, and he played for about half of the 2013 season, learning in a trial by fire that would set the tone for his future QB jobs. In 2014 he became the first-string QB full time and continued to improve, leading the Jaguars to a conference title before his time in junior college came to an end. He then visited a few different Division I schools, but wound up transferring to Division II’s Texas A&M-Commerce in 2015, where he redshirted his first year, taking that time to improve his conditioning and knowledge of their offense.

Perez won A&M-Commerce’s starting job in 2016 and emerged as one of the best quarterbacks in Division II football over the next two years. He led the A&M-Commerce Lions to a record of 22-3 as the starter, and in 2017 he recorded a 10-1 record in the regular season, helping them to qualify for the Division II playoffs, which consisted of five rounds of single-elimination games. Perez then led the Lions all the way to the Division II national championship, winning five games against the best Division II competition in the country and ending the year with exactly 5,001 passing yards and 46 scores on a ludicrous 70.6% completion rate. He ended the year as a national champion, a Harlon Hill Trophy winner (D-II’s equivalent of the Heisman), and a First-Team All-American. Coming off all of those accolades, he made the decision to chase his dream of playing in the NFL, playing in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in an effort to boost his stock.

The Beginning of The Grind (2018-2021) 

Perez found himself in a variety of different jerseys, never in one for longer than eight games. (Photos from Getty Images & TSL)

2018’s NFL Draft came and went without Perez getting his name called. It seemed like an unfortunate setback at the time, but he was then invited to join the rookie camp of the LA Rams. He impressed enough to sign with them as a UDFA and lasted long enough to see a single preseason game with them, but he was eventually cut, beginning Perez’s long journey across numerous teams. To this day, Perez’s only playing time in the NFL resulted in a subpar statline of 8-for-15 for 43 yards.

His first spring football stop was with the Alliance of American Football, as their Birmingham Iron drafted him fifth overall in November 2018. When the AAF debuted in February 2019, Perez was the Iron’s starting QB. He ended up starting seven games for Birmingham in total, compiling 1,460 yards, 5 TDs and 6 picks, and while that TD to INT ratio may look bad, it’s worth noting Perez contributed the bulk of the team’s yardage, and that Iron RB Trent Richardson had 11 short rush TDs in that timeframe, some of which could easily be credited to Perez setting him up.

The Iron amassed a 5-3 record and managed to clinch a playoff berth after eight weeks of play, but the AAF folded before the playoffs could get underway due to being poorly thought out financially. The Philadelphia Eagles saw enough in Perez’s AAF performance to sign him to their preliminary rosters, but once again, he barely saw a paycheck from them before he was cut. A similar story repeated a few months later with the Detroit Lions, and Perez was back to spring ball again.

In 2020 it was the XFL’s second incarnation that requested Perez’s services, as he was named one of eight “tier one” free agents, a surprising show of confidence from the new league. He was originally assigned to their LA Wildcats before being traded to yet another team, the New York Guardians (meaning that in a single calendar year, Perez was part of five teams across three leagues). Perez opened the 2020 season as the backup to Matt McGloin but took over in Week 3 because the team believed Perez was performing better in practice. Once again, he began to heat up under the fire, leading his team to a 2-0 record behind a pair of solid games. But once again, he couldn’t finish the season with them, as the COVID-19 pandemic killed the league’s operations.

Constant moving to and from new teams was quickly taking its toll. In 2021, Perez signed on to play for a scouting league, simply dubbed “The Spring League”. All eight of its teams were based in the same location and its sole purpose was to get players some tape for NFL scouts over a short, six-week season. He started for the TSL’s Jousters and led them to a 4-2 record and The Spring League’s only championship game, where the Jousters lost despite a pair of passing scores from Perez.

“Despite” seemed to be the word of choice when it came to Perez’s career at this point. Despite winning a D-II championship, he couldn’t stick around long enough in the NFL. Despite continuing to put up winning records on every new team, none of them could keep him for long, either because the team itself folded or they liked someone else more. Despite his steadily accumulating resume, it seemed that his pro career could come to an end before he ever found stability. He went on his longest hiatus from football since college before another spring team came calling.

Spring Football Greatness (2022-present) 

Over the last few years, Perez's experience has begun to translate to improved play, which has resulted in new accolades. (Getty Images)

When yet another spring league, this time the USFL, was set to get started in 2022, it seemed that Perez would be passed over, potentially ending his career altogether. The USFL Draft came and went, and like the NFL Draft years prior, Perez didn’t get his name called. Then he got a last-minute call from the New Jersey Generals, who desperately needed another QB after one of the ones they drafted suffered a season ending injury. Perez ended up in a two-QB system with De’Andre Johnson to start the 2022 season.

Due to being in a two-QB system, Perez’s attempts were all limited, but he made them count. Over the course of the season, he went 124-for-173, throwing for 1,200 yards, 9 TDs and just 1 INT. He handily outshined Johnson in the passing department and led the Generals to a nine-game win streak after their initial loss, meaning New Jersey finished the year 9-1. Among other achievements, Perez led all USFL QBs in passer rating (105.6) and completion percentage (71.7) and was named to the All-USFL team. Unfortunately for Perez, the USFL playoffs that year were the highest pressure situation that he’d ever found himself in, and he threw two costly picks as the Generals were upset by the Philadelphia Stars.

Funny enough, his stellar play at the USFL level led to him getting signed by the LA Rams for the second time in his career. It didn’t last, sadly, but it did seem like some cycles were continuing. After the Rams cut him, the XFL (this time under new ownership) came calling again, drafting him to be the starting QB for the Vegas Vipers. He once again started slow for the Vipers before improving heading into the midseason, throwing for 900 yards, 8 TDs and 5 picks (three of which were tipped balls) in four starts. He continued to display some poise in the pocket and strong accuracy in short and medium range throws, which gave a rival XFL team the idea to trade for him.

The Arlington Renegades had struggled heavily on offense for most of the season until they got Perez, who wound up being the spark the Renegades offense badly needed. Although his regular season stats were not very impressive (730 yards, a TD and 2 picks in three starts) the Renegades offense began to pick up more yards and score more overall, leading them to the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. Unlike his run with the Generals, however, this time Perez knew what he needed to win in the postseason.

Perez cooked the Houston Roughnecks in the semifinals, throwing for 289 yards and 3 TDs on just 27 passes, meaning he averaged a first down per pass. He was composed in the pocket and under pressure even against XFL sack leader Trent Harris and threw the ball excellently, showing great accuracy to nearly all parts of the field as well as good velocity on his throws. That great performance gave the Renegades a shot at the XFL Championship in San Antonio, against the 10-1 DC Defenders.

With twenty-three thousand fans watching in the Alamodome and over two million more watching from home, Perez put on an excellent performance almost identical to the one against the Roughnecks. He completed nearly seventy-five percent of his passes for 288 yards, another 3 TDs and no picks en route to stunning the Defenders 35-26 and winning the XFL title. He showed off his adaptability live, frequently extending plays when he needed to and finding the open man in a culmination of everything he had learned throughout his career. This performance earned him a ring and the title of XFL Championship MVP, but it also earned him something he hasn’t yet seen in his pro football career: stability.

Even as Perez won the XFL title, the goal for him always remained the same: land a spot on one of the NFL’s 53-man rosters in the fall. Like he always has, he will look to get an offer from one of the 32 NFL teams over the summer. But if he can’t stick around an NFL squad on his fourth attempt, he will return to the Renegades as their starting QB, and it would be the first time in his career he will have played for one team in consecutive seasons.

A Clearer Path 

Perez’s career reflects that of a huge number of pro football players across many leagues. He has bounced from team to team for years on end, earning paychecks and playing to the best of his ability in a dire effort to keep a childhood dream alive. In this new era of spring leagues that can often come and go, that often means not knowing when a stint with any one team may end, and the search for another chance will begin.

Since his graduation from college, Luis Perez’s professional career has gone through nearly a dozen different teams across the NFL, AAF, TSL, USFL, and two different incarnations of the XFL. He has winning records with almost every team he has started a regular season game for and led nearly all of them to playoff berths. He’s been All-TSL, All-USFL, and an XFL Championship MVP, and he has now won championships at both the college and pro levels. But despite his resume, which easily clears that of nearly every other spring league player in our era, he has never been able to stay in one place for long.

Is Perez an NFL-caliber QB? No one can really tell. He’s been cut from NFL squads four times, which would lead most people to think the answer is “no”. However, just like Perez could improve week over week with each new team, he has continually improved year over year as well. He is the consummate professional, always able to adapt to the playbook given to him. His work ethic is excellent, and this career has clearly given him all the intangibles needed to succeed as a QB. In terms of more physical traits, he has the prototypical QB build at 6’3”, 220 pounds, and his veteran experience has helped him learn to extend plays. He processes the field decently and is quite accurate in short and midrange passes. He has just about all the traits of a potential quality backup in the NFL, although he will likely never start.

Regardless, after the six-year career Perez has had so far, he will probably look to take another swing at an NFL roster in the fall. His resume stands out from the rest of the fringe QBs out there, but whether or not he’ll make it this time remains to be seen. But he’s got one thing going for him this time that he’s never had before: a plan B. If he’s not on an NFL squad, you’ll find him in the Renegades’ uniform once again, where he will continue to grind like he always has.