BRIDGEWATER – Bridgewater College football coach Michael Clark loves referring to what he calls “Division III moments” – occasions when, due to a shortage of resources at schools such as BC, his team is forced to do something that no D-I program would do. For instance: When, on already budget-restricted recruiting trips, Clark bunks with a close relative rather than in a hotel.
The metamorphosis of sophomore Jayme Perry from a 150-pound high school defensive end to a contributing college wide receiver also qualifies.
Perry, who said his scout-team jersey was practically attached to his shoulder pads last season, has given a much-needed lift to a receiving corps depleted by injuries and a suspension. Just one year after learning to play wide receiver, Perry has 13 catches, including four touchdowns – most recently a 29-yard, diving TD catch against Emory & Henry, one that made Perry look like he’d been playing the position his whole life.
In fact, Perry hadn’t scored a touchdown — ever — until this year.
“If you would have told me [last season], ‘Hey, you’re going to be doing this next year, and you’re going to have that opportunity to make that catch,’ I might be a little more nervous, because I never even scored a touchdown until this year,” said the 5-foot-10 Perry, who has since beefed up to 195 pounds. “I’ve never played offense or anything.”
Despite his narrow frame as a senior at Warren County High School, Perry was an exceptional defensive end. He recorded 15½ sacks in his final season and was named second-team all-state.
But defensive end doesn’t quite capture Perry’s role on that team. Because of his speed – the lightweight Perry had to be fast to get around the lumbering offensive linemen standing across from him – he basically lined up wherever he felt like he had the best chance to sprint into the offense’s backfield.
“They basically had defensive schemes where I could just stand up and go wherever I felt there was a weak spot in the offense,” Perry said. “I was mostly just speed, because the tackles are huge, and I would just go around ’em.”
As you might imagine, though, as Perry was shopping for a college team, coaches weren’t exactly pining for 150-pound defensive ends. Perry said he was looked at mainly by Shenandoah – which is more local to his hometown of Linden – along with Bridgewater. But BC practically came across Perry by accident.
Clark said he was going after another Warren County player when he first noticed Perry. Perry’s speed was alluring enough that Clark said he’d get a roster spot, telling him he’d probably play in the secondary and on special teams.
“Jayme just happened to be a fast kid, and he had a bunch of sacks his senior year,” Clark said. “We’re like, ‘OK, come on [to BC].’”
But Perry didn’t have the right “quick-twitch” muscles, as Clark put it, that a defensive back needs – in particular, the ability to quickly rotate his hips. So Perry was moved to wide receiver – and, for the first time in his life, to any position on offense.
The learning curve was steep for Perry, who cited everything from route-running to trying on his first pair of wide-receiving gloves as major adjustments.
“We’d be like, ‘Yeah, you’ve gotta run a hitch.’ He’d run a post,” said junior Shawn Lee, who leads the Eagles’ wideouts with 22 receptions. “We’ll just be all, ‘Wow. Wow.’ The play would be all messed up.”
Coming into this season, Perry was still supposed to be buried on the depth chart. Clark said he planned on the sophomore being the Eagles’ sixth receiver, who would be on the traveling squad only because he’d be a factor on special teams.
But when junior Cliff Woodard suffered a season-ending foot injury over the summer and Cassidy Burns was kicked off the team for what Clark has said were disciplinary reasons during preseason, Perry started climbing the pecking order simply by necessity.
In the Eagles’ season opener at Saint Vincent, Perry made the first catch by any BC wide receiver this year: a 1-yard reception in the first quarter. Then, he scored the Eagles’ first points, catching a 41-yard pass on a fade route.
Just weeks earlier, Perry was unclear as to what a fade route was.
“There was a play in practice where he was getting press man [coverage], and I remember we were talking about, you get press-man, you turn your 5-yard out into a fade, and he runs 3 yards and just stops, because he didn’t know what to do,” junior quarterback Willie Logan said. “The next week, we were at Saint Vincent, and we had the same scenario, and he knew to run the fade, and he scored his first touchdown.”
Since then, Logan said he’s gotten increasingly comfortable throwing to Perry, who’s part of a wide receiver group that has directly contributed to the Eagles’ last two wins.
After their worst loss of the season at Guilford – which featured numerous dropped passes – no wideout had more than nine catches through six games. The last two contests, the wideouts have combined for 24 catches, led by Lee’s 12.
Perry’s had just three of those, but two have been touchdowns at crucial moments. His TD against E&H – in his first career start, filling in for injured junior John Lezcano – gave BC (6-2 overall, 3-2 in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference) a two-score lead in the third quarter, which eventually shrank to six in the closing moments. In BC’s upset win over Washington & Lee the previous week, Perry’s 2-yard TD catch on fourth-and-2 gave the Eagles a 10-point lead with three minutes remaining.
And, occasionally, Perry shows that he can still run past blockers. Against Emory & Henry, he blocked a punt that set up BC’s second touchdown at the end of the first half.
His positive plays aren’t so D-III-ish anymore.
“I wore a scout-team pinny [jersey] every single day [last year], and all the coaches just made fun of me because I would just walk out there with one,” Perry said. “I wouldn’t even take it off my shoulder pads pretty much.”