He’s heard a lot of criticism in his life. Some deserved, some
not. He’s been compared to the great running backs of Michigan’s
past. Some comparisons warranted, others out of his reach.

He’s fumbled too many times, not accumulated enough yards and
not carried the team as much as he should.

He’s been through injuries, promising starts, rough seasons and
was even asked by his coach to think about finishing his career
elsewhere.

But if there is one thing that can be said about Michigan’s
starting tailback, Chris Perry, it was said by coach Lloyd Carr not
too long ago.

“Perry’s still here.”

In fact, Perry’s been here for awhile. The senior is entering
his final season – second straight as a starter – and the
expectations are once again high for the back from Fork Union
Military Academy in Virginia.

Looking at the way he’s carrying himself, it could be assumed
that this is finally the season where Perry lives up to all the
hype.

With no injuries to note of and no other real threats at the
tailback position for the starting job, it was unlikely that
Perry’s 232-yard performance against Central Michigan was hardly a
fluke. And while his speed and power, quickened and strengthened
over what he calls a “normal off-season,” are above average for
your normal collegiate back, they are nothing without his
gargantuan enthusiasm that lifts the Wolverines more than any
20-yard run.

Imagine, if you will, a cold Michigan November. Probably not
enough snow to make it winter, but plenty of dark clouds in the air
and slush on the ground to make life miserable. Factor in the
regular everyday life of being a university student and all the
little things that add stress to a gloomy day. Then add being
yelled at by coaches for bad execution of a play this late in the
season or for just looking sluggish. But then add No. 23 to the
mix.

Rays of sunshine peering through an overcast sky only begin to
describe the true essence of him. Anyone who has played the game of
full-padded football knows that there are times when the last thing
you’d want to do be doing is having your body become a human
pinata.

“Now last year I tried to get Chris to transfer, because he and
I didn’t see eye to eye for a long time,” Carr said. “But this is
what I love about Chris Perry. I know that everyday when I go to
practice there’ll be one guy that is energized. He loves to
practice. I mean it’s fun. It’s not an easy game to get ready to
practice for every day, but Perry’s got a great enthusiasm, love
for the game. He’s developed into a complete football player. He’s
smart – he’s very smart – he’s competitive, he’s a big, strong guy
with wonderful feet and I really like him.”

This coming from a man who told Perry last year that he should
find a new home away from the Big House.

Positive spirit in football is a necessity. Notre Dame would
have been a shell of what it was last year had it not been for the
tough, but nurturing spirit of new coach Tyrone Willingham who got
more out his Bob Davie players than Davie, the former coach of
Notre Dame, did. And when college football’s greatest comebacks are
talked about afterward, the first thing anyone says from the
winning team is, “I just looked at (insert name here), he was
smiling at me, and I just knew we’d pull it out.”

While Perry has shared that role of being an inspiration in
college with other playmakers at Michigan, he was always the guy to
turn to in high school when times looked grim.

“His senior year we were playing Mt. Zion Christian Academy in
Durham, N.C., and at halftime, Chris told the coaches to give him
the ball in the second half,” Lt. Col. Mickey Sullivan, Perry’s
high school coach, said. “We did, and he ran over and around them
to lead us to a win. He ended up with 301 yards and four touchdowns
on 32 carries.”

Sullivan, who keeps in touch monthly with Perry, always manages
to catch as many Michigan games on television as he can when he’s
not scouting his next opponent. He also commented that his favorite
Michigan moment from Perry’s career was the winning touchdown
against Penn State in overtime, which ignited the Michigan student
section into one of its biggest frenzies since the 1997 win against
Ohio State.

To think that Perry isn’t personally responsible for most of
that excitement is ludicrous. Whether soaring in the air to chest
bump a vertically-inclined Braylon Edwards after a touchdown or to
pump up a slacking defense in practice, Chris has always found
himself in control of turning up the volume of his team’s
jubilation, whether he means to or not.

“One word describes Chris and that’s high-energy,” Michigan
linebacker Roy Manning said. “He comes out here everyday, I mean
everyday, pumped and ready to go. I think he’s an exceptional back.
I expect great things out of him for his senior year. When the
offense breaks one in practice, Chris lets the whole defense know
about it. Even if he’s not in the play he lets the whole defense
know about it. We feed off of that, and we come back fired the next
play.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann even acknowledged that
Perry’s words from the sideline or after a big offensive play might
be more motivational than what he or any other defensive staff
member can say.

For a person who is so talented at being positive, it is tough
to imagine that his football talents might be as good, if not
superior.

If the Central Michigan game was any indication, Perry has found
perfect balance between being a Jerome Bettis-run-you-over running
back or a Barry Sanders-juke-you-out-of-your-cleats back. While it
is improbable to imply that Perry is the next Jerome Bettis or
Barry Sanders, his style of running makes it difficult for opposing
coaches to prepare for him.

He will spend half, if not more, of his carries just trying to
pick up his yards running people over and straight through the hole
without much intention of cutting back. Some members of the media
wondered aloud whether Chris had any notion of looking east or west
when he ran.

Then it happened.

Central Michigan pulled within 10 points in the early portion of
the third quarter. Momentum seemed to be possibly shifting.

After three runs up the middle for 27 yards, and a two-play
break where backup David Underwood racked up 17 yards on a middle
draw and an off-tackle run to the left, Perry was ready to
attack.

The play seemed harmless enough. Going outside the left tackle
through a hole formed by wide receivers and linemen, it seemed like
a normal play just like Perry’s previous runs for five, 11 and 11
yards. Central Michigan’s James King came up to make a sure tackle,
like he did 19 times in the game (18 of them being solo
tackles).

Shake left, shake right, shake left.

King was left standing as Perry easily ran himself in for a
26-yard touchdown and all that the Wolverines would need to deflate
the Chippewas.

And with that, Mr. Enthusiasm achieved one of his goals: Pick up
where he left off last season in his 199 total yard performance
against Florida.

His relationship with Carr is now “patched up” and
“lovey-dovey.” He worked hard this offseason to never fumble again,
and he’s got the most talented offensive line that he’s ever
had.

Now who can’t get excited about that?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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