Freshman midfielder Rocky Perez showed signs of great things to come with consistent and solid performances for South Carolina's men's soccer team during his first year.
Perez has been a reliable player for head coach Tony Annan, starting in all 17 of South Carolina's matches and tallying 1,253 minutes this season.
"He is a tireless worker, his work ethic is fantastic, not only in training but in the games," Annan said.
As a young player, Perez had to adapt to the demanding game schedule and physicality of college soccer.
"It's just a much more physical game than academy soccer," Perez said. "It took some getting used to, but I think I did a good job getting adjusted.
Prior to South Carolina, Perez spent time with San Antonio FC, a professional team in the United Soccer League (USL) Championship. This professional experience makes him a helpful addition to a young South Carolina program. He credits being a part of San Antonio as a helpful factor in his development as both a player and professional.
“Being a part of a USL group, seeing guys that have already played in college and are professionals — being able to see them and take them as role models for me — see them on a daily basis, see how they work, how they train and apply that to my game,” Perez said.
Perez was also selected to the United States Youth National Team Pool, an opportunity given to some of the country’s brightest young players. Perez said he hopes to work with the national team again.
“I was excited for him to come in and play with the team because I had heard good things,” junior midfielder Peter Clement said. “When I got to meet him and play with him, I could see that he was a talented player and a very good guy.”
With such experience, Perez has developed into a talented midfielder on and off the ball. When his team is out of possession, he does well to win the ball back.
“Rocky is a midfielder who can run a lot and cover a lot of ground,” Clement said. “He can win the ball and then find me in those spaces and then combine with me because he likes to go forward as well.”
Annan sees Perez as a midfielder who can take on both an attacking and defensive-minded role depending on what the team needs.
"The more strings you've got to your bow, the more effective player you are at the next level," Annan said. "The good thing for Rocky is that he can do both roles very, very effectively."
Looking towards the future, Perez said he hopes to establish South Carolina as a serious contender in college soccer.
“Ever since I talked to coach Tony, we really had the idea of putting South Carolina on the map," Perez said. "I mean, I don’t see no reason why we can’t be a top-5 team in the country by the time I’m done here. We just need time.”