It wasn’t long ago Jeff Clement and Antwine Perez shared high school highlight tapes. The clips served as an offbeat form of competition between the two longtime friends, each hoping to top the other with an impressive hit.
Clement landed at Maryland and Perez at Southern California as a much-lauded recruit a year later. And when Perez opted to depart and transferred to Maryland, he brought a surprise for his old neighbor from outside of Camden, N.J.
“He has some of his highlights from USC he showed me where he knocks guys helmets off,” said Clement, a reserve linebacker. “[I’m thinking] I know I can’t do that, and I’m not at USC, so you’ve got that.”
If one thing cannot be questioned about Perez, it is his physicality. The sophomore free safety will draw his first career start Saturday in place of the injured Terrell Skinner when No. 23 California (2-0) visits the Terrapins (1-1) at Byrd Stadium.
Perez might have predicted long ago he would have the chance to start against the Golden Bears - just not at Maryland, where an already circuitous career almost ran into a dead end nearly a year ago.
Less than three years ago, rivals.com ranked Perez the No. 29 recruit in the country. He quickly decided he wanted to attend Southern California and enrolled a semester early to acclimate himself to the West Coast.
He lasted a season before he started looking for a new home. Perez used Clement to collect information, picking the linebacker’s mind about Maryland. He also sought the advice of Kevin Eli, a defensive end who played for the Terps earlier this decade and is also from the Camden area.
Perez’s interest provided a second chance for Terps assistant John Donovan, who recruits southern New Jersey, to attract a coveted target.
“You definitely take a chance on a guy like that because he’s local enough for us, a couple hours away,” Donovan said. “He was at a position we needed some depth in, and he was a good student coming out of high school. Those three things, they all looked good.”
Turns out the last part wasn’t. Coach Ralph Friedgen said Perez “almost got blown out of the water academically” while he adjusted to his second college stop as he couldn’t play for a season because of the NCAA’s transfer rules.
Finally, Friedgen brought in Perez’s parents and warned the safety wouldn’t last another semester without a turnaround in the classroom.
“It was rough,” Perez said. “He had to have a talk with my parents to get my head on my shoulders. I wasn’t focused like I should have been. There were a lot of things going on that contributed to me not doing what I was supposed to do.”
Eventually, he adapted and corrected his academic slide. But there was still the matter of toiling in a new environment.
And as far as major college football goes, Maryland isn’t exactly Southern Cal.
“It’s a lot different,” Perez said. “Out there, you’re on such a pedestal to everyone. There’s such a tradition out there and the history of football out there - championships, Heisman trophies. There’s just so much expectations to live up to. Here, you’re trying to bring a program up.”