Versatile Perry Preparing for Anything in 2013
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — As local boys tend to do, Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry grew up wanting to be a Buckeye. He played football at Olentangy High School in Lewis Center, which is essentially a half hour due north of the OSU campus.
A talented player early on, he lined up anywhere his coach needed him. As a freshman, he played quarterback. He eventually moved off the ball, but never strayed too far from it.
He began to make his name as a linebacker, where he was Special Mention All-State as a junior and Second-Team All-State as a senior. He was also a talented tight end, and would even line up at running back as well.
He also played basketball and ran track. In fact, he ran track very well. As a sophomore in 2010, at around 6'3" and 220 pounds, he finished second in the state in the long jump to current teammate Devin Smith. As a junior he finished fifth.
Photo by Jim Davidson
It was only a couple of weeks after that second-place finish that Perry attended an Ohio State summer camp. He displayed all the natural ability that would be required to play as many positions and sports as Perry did, and it also didn't hurt that he ran a 4.54 in the 40-yard dash in the process.
At the end of the camp his hard work had paid off and he received a scholarship offer from Jim Tressel. Perry waited all of two days before committing and becoming the first member of Ohio State's 2012 recruiting class.
Eleven months later, however, Tressel resigned. Despite the turmoil, Perry stayed the course for the next 20 months, eventually going through a second coaching change that would end with Urban Meyer taking over the football program.
In Meyer's first three months on the job, not entirely sure what kind of hay was already in the barn, he secured commitments from three other linebackers, eventually giving the Buckeyes a linebacker class of five for 2012.
Much was made of those three linebackers. One was a former Notre Dame commit, another a former Penn State commit, and the third chose the Buckeyes on Signing Day, which always gains people's attention.
When the Buckeyes opened their 2012 season, there were three freshmen linebackers in Ohio State's two-deep. David Perkins and Camren Williams, both of whom had committed to Meyer, and Perry, who had committed to Ohio State before Meyer had even coached his final season at Florida.
At the end of the season, however, Perry was the lone freshman linebacker still in the two-deep, and the only one getting any meaningful defensive snaps.
Even though he is only going to be a sophomore, it's been a long road for Perry (if you can call a 16-mile strip of highway a "long road"). Now, nearly three years after he committed to be a Buckeye, he finds himself as one of the key figures in Ohio State's eventual linebacker lineup.
He was a backup at strongside linebacker to senior Etienne Sabino last season, and was assumed to be taking over that position this season. This spring however he finds himself learning every linebacker spot, as the coaches are searching for their three best options.
"I'm learning whatever positions," Perry said.
"I'm rotating at Mike, and learning Star too, just in case I need to step in there. And I'm learning Will linebacker."
That is a lot to process for a player, especially one who didn't necessarily know what he was doing last year. His athleticism, however, helped get him through. That kind of athleticism has always been a boon to Perry, and now at 6'4" and 243 pounds, it also makes him a very versatile prospect.
The coaches are asking a lot of the linebackers this spring, but it's in asking the hard questions where they'll find the best answers. Perry believes that his athleticism and versatility provide a number of such answers.
"I think it helps a lot," he admitted.
"One of the things that is great about being a linebacker is that I can play out on the edge, I can try to play in the box, I can do a lot of different things."
Having received some actual playing time last season, Perry has entered the spring as a much more confident player than he was as a freshman. That confidence is one of the reasons that he is getting a good, long look at middle linebacker.
Last season, the middle linebacker spot was one of constant consternation until Zach Boren finally took it over full time and settled down the entire defense. Now, the defensive staff is trying to find somebody who can fill Boren's shoes, and eventually outgrow them.
The 2013 Ohio State defense will find the going much easier if they can find their man in the middle, and with Perry's experience growing by the day, who is to say that it won't be him? Even if he doesn't always know where to go just yet, he at least knows that he has to get there quickly.
"Last year, you can definitely tell that I was timid because I had absolutely no idea," he said.
"Now I'm playing Mike linebacker, and I'm still learning, but I know that's not the way you do it. You just go out there and if you run the wrong way, then you run the wrong way. But if you go hard, they're not going to chew you out as bad as if you didn't. The biggest thing from last year is not so much confidence, but knowing to just 'go', and then whatever happens, happens."
The Buckeye coaches know what they want to have happen. They want to see somebody win the middle linebacker job this spring with their play, and not simply by default. Perry is one of a few who are fighting for it, and with his size and athleticism, he is certainly an intriguing player.
There are still a few question marks on this defense, but Perry 's versatility could ultimately turn him into an exclamation point.
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