For University of Tennessee at Martin student Taino Fears-Perez, of Knoxville, UT Martin has opened doors academically, athletically and with community service.
Having lived in several large cities growing up, including Washington, D.C. and Knoxville, Fears-Perez was skeptical at first of the small town of Martin, but following a campus visit, he knew it was the right place for him.
“Once I got to town and got to meet my teammates that I would be with and my coaching staff, and took a look at the community, I just kind of fell in love with it,” he said. “Since it’s smaller … I felt like I could grow academically, athletically and just as a man here in my college career.”
Fears-Perez’s teammates were members of the UT Martin football team, on which he played until an injury last fall. But the football program is still a large part of his campus life.
“I actually tore my ACL as we played [Southeastern Louisiana University], and that was probably my best game since I’ve been here … but actually it all worked out because I got my medical redshirt, so I still have three years left to play football,” he said.
Fears-Perez is well traveled, having lived in Guam, Orlando, Fla., and Washington, D.C., as a child, and he also developed his love for football at a young age.
“I was always raised with baseball, because my grandfather actually played professionally for the Detroit Tigers, so baseball was always there from day one,” he said, but when he found football to be challenging at the age of seven he pursued that sport instead. “It’s definitely been hard work from there, but it’s been enjoyable. It was really neat that I got the opportunity to play at a small division-one school … and really just being able to do something positive for my little brother and my family back home.”
Fears-Perez has also been able to turn his attention to academics where he is a health and human performance major (HHP), and hopes to attend graduate school upon completing his bachelor’s degree.
“I chose HHP because I felt like, because I do play football, it would give me the opportunity to continue to work around the sport,” he said, adding that he is pursuing a business administration minor to help realize his dream of eventually owning a sports training facility.
His HHP classes have also assured him that he is on the right track.
“I really enjoyed Scott Pun’s class,” Fears-Perez said. “It was a lot of hard work but it reassured me that I was getting into the right field.” Pun is a faculty member and lecturer in the Department of Health and Human Performance.
But UT Martin has also provided Fears-Perez a valuable community service opportunity, which he takes seriously. He is highly involved in the Pigskin Pals program, through which he visits a local elementary school classroom twice a month and mentors one student once a week.
He said that 30 to 40 players visit a classroom at least twice a month, others personally mentor a child, and he chooses to do both as he mentors an elementary school student.
“That’s been neat to start with him since September and to see him progress from making better grades to enjoying school and having a better home life,” he said, adding that the students in the classroom speak to him regularly when they see him in public. “It’s really helped me build a connection with the community, and it makes me think, before I do anything, about how it will look to a child that I know.”