Where’s the Beef? — Nothing Cheesy About This Former UTEP Linebacker

Tony Perea, just up from the freshman team, wore #51 for this photo shoot. Soon he would switch to #36, and tackle everything that moved.

By Mark S. McDonald, UTEP railbird and cheeseburger expert

Next time you visit the Texas Panhandle, you might drive past a road sign in Friona and wonder what the hay? Official Cheeseburger Capital of the State? To my key-hole view of the world, Friona (pop. +/- 3,500) is a special place, mostly because it gave us Tony Perea.

Soon to be inducted into the UTEP Athletics Hall of Fame, Perea joins the Class of 2019 with: basketballer Jeep Jackson, shot-putter Hans Hoglund, hoopster Kayla Thornton and lineman Brian Young (from El Paso Andress and the NFL Rams and Saints).

Perea ranks alongside retired NFL referee Eddie Hochuli as my most admired linebacker-teammates of all-time. Yes, they ended up quality D-1 players, but not at first, and not without work. Hard work.

They both arrived at UTEP in the recruiting class of 1969 as undersized high school running backs. When you saw how Tony and Eddie stacked their bodies with serious weight training, you too would trust them as valued teammates.

Perea, now a P.E. teacher and boxing coach in Gadsden, N.M., told me he never knew the value of weightlifting until after his freshman year at UTEP. That’s when he started working out in the dungeon under the south stands at Kidd Field. There, Miners shotput and discus champs Hoglund, Fred DiBernardi and John Birkelbach put on a power-lifting show Tony took to heart.

This was the TCU model – speed over size – long before Gary Patterson started bringing in high school RBs and QBs to speed up Horned Frog defenses. One night vs. Arizona State, Tony hammered every Sun Devil this side of Coach Frank Kush en route to 28 tackles. Could not have done it, Tony says, without the play of defensive linemen Don Croft, Calvin (Baby Bull) Taylor, Jaime Chavando, Dave Smith and Brooks West.

So, Tony built his UTEP Hall of Fame career on cheeseburgers from the local Tasty Cream, right?

“Naaa,” Tony he said, “I went to Allsup’s (convenience store) for burritos or hot links.”

{McDonald is a UTEP grad, two-year starter in football and author of Beyond The Big Shootout – 50 Years of Football’s Life Lessons. He is never one to turn down a hot, greasy cheeseburger.}

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