Don’t tell Keanu Perez he can’t do something.
Turns out he’s quite good at proving those people wrong.
Perez, who graduated from Sonora High School earlier this month, is now one of Sonora High School’s most decorated athletes. And he’s headed to California Baptist University in Riverside where he’ll wrestle for the Division I Lancers.
A college wrestling scholarship is a rarity. Just 1 percent of high school wrestlers go on to compete on the college level.
But to those who know Perez, it’s not exactly a surprise he earned one.
“I’m most proud of his discipline in what he does on a daily basis,” said his mom, Tonie Perez. “He just goes after what he wants.”
He started wrestling after he faced what some might see as a failure. He was cut from the freshman basketball team.
“Initially I wasn’t going to do any sports after that,” said Perez.
But he had made a promise to his father. If he didn’t make the basketball team, he would at least give wrestling a try.
“I ended up falling in love with the sport,” said Perez.
“You don’t have to rely on someone else’s work ethic,” he said. “It’s just you.”
After his freshman year on the team, Perez decided to sharpen his focus. His goal was to be the best.
“As time progressed, I realized I could wrestle (at the highest level),” said Perez.
He qualified for the state championship the next three years of high school. He was an All-American pick at the Flo Reno Worlds in Reno.
His list of accomplishments go on and on.
Supporting him along the way has been his parents, Tonie and Pablo. Both are nurses at Adventist Health Sonora.
And yes, watching your child wrestle can be tough.
“Every match I have butterflies in my stomach,” said Tonie Perez. “It’s nerve-wracking.”
The family has done their fair share of travelling: Idaho, North Carolina, Colorado, and around California for wrestling camps and tournaments.
“My parents have invested a lot in me,” said Perez.
Now they’ll be about seven hours away from Perez’s home matches.
Going to college was always a goal for Perez, said Tonie Perez. Finding a school that was both faith-based and had a Division I program was a priority.
“A lot of the schools didn’t have both things,” said Tonie Perez.
California Baptist University moved to Division I earlier this year.
Tonie Perez got the initial call from the school’s coaches. Then they called Keanu to tell him he had a roster spot and the coveted scholarship.
There was plenty of jumping up and down and screaming, said Tonie Perez with a laugh.
“I was ecstatic because not many people go big in wrestling let alone from Sonora HIgh,” said Keanu Perez. “It felt really special.”
Before he heads off to Southern California, Perez said he’ll spend his summer in the gym and volunteering at his church, Sierra Bible. He recently returned from a mission trip to Mexico where he volunteered at Sierra Bible’s sister church.
As much as he loves having his hand raised in victory on the wrestling match, doing volunteer work away from the sport is even more fulfilling, he said.
Perez plans to pursue a degree in nursing.
And for young athletes who are considering sports, he has some advice.
“Anything is possible if you have the work ethic and determination,” he said.