- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

Bruce Perry relaxed outside the Maryland football offices late Saturday afternoon with a smile on his face and his godson on his lap. His family was gathered around after a perfect day for the Terrapins tailback, who ran out of obscurity to gain 116 yards and lead Maryland to a 23-7 season-opening win over North Carolina before a near-capacity crowd and regional television audience.

The 5-foot-9, 190-pounder turned in an explosive and bruising performance, regularly lowering his shoulder to gain extra yards and wear down the defense. The star was basking in the limelight following the impressive performance before a dose of reality came walking by.

Running backs coach Mike Locksley shouted "no love" from across the room to where the tailback was sitting peacefully. It is a theme Maryland coaches regularly use when speaking about Perry, a redshirt sophomore, whom they fear can get his head caught in the clouds despite his small stature.

"My motto with him, and this is what I found having coached him the last two years, is 'I can't give him no love,' " Locksley said. "I constantly have to be on his butt. Even off the field. When he starts out well academically and you give him praise, then he'll start sliding downhill. The same can be said of him as a player.

"I'll congratulate him for running the ball physical, which I expect. But I have to constantly challenge him. Instead of pointing out things he does well, I'll point out things he doesn't do well to keep his head level."

That job may be a bit more difficult now that the little man is the big man on campus. That is the next challenge Perry must work through, after spending much of his career overcoming obstacles. First he was told he was too small. More recently, nagging injuries held him back. This preseason, a strained hamstring almost left him an unhappy spectator.

"When he missed four or five practices near the end of two-a-days, he saw the light was flickering," Locksley said. "He was right at the bottom of the depth chart. He had to come back and work his way back up, which he did the last 10 practices."

Early on, coaches wondered if he was too small and too fragile to handle the bruising work of a starting tailback. Marc Riley and Chris Downs were seen as the top candidates for the position vacated by LaMont Jordan, while true freshman Jason Crawford was also in the mix. As for Perry, coach Ralph Friedgen said at the time, "He's nicked up all the time, so we can't count on him."

Perry suddenly got healthy and Downs broke his hand. And Perry, a Philadelphia native, claimed the spot with power and explosive moves. It was all a buildup to his surprising stardom on Saturday.

"I was a little taken back with how hard he ran," said Friedgen, after watching Perry get 21 carries. "That's the best he's run since I've been here."

Perry was a prize recruit when he arrived in College Park in 1999. As a high school senior, the Pennsylvania all-state selection said he received scholarship offers from such top-25 programs as Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin, although some wanted to convert him to defensive back. Perry rushed for 1,041 yards his senior season at George Washington High (Philadelphia) despite playing the whole year with a meniscus tear in one knee. He chose Maryland largely because it was close to home.

After showing flashes his freshman season as the third-string back behind star Jordan and gaining 195 yards on the season, he redshirted last season. This spring Friedgen and a new staff took over, and Perry's durability was first concern when he missed time with a sprained shoulder. The nagging injuries continued into fall practice, and doubts remained going into the season opener.

"I knew people wondered if I could do this," Perry said this week. "I was questioning myself about the injuries 'Why is this happening?' I was upset with myself because I couldn't do what I knew I could."

Perry is hopeful those ailments are behind him, and he does extra stretching and drinks more water these days as a form of prevention. He doesn't plan on letting a big head slow his progress either. The stylish tailback understands how some people can get the impression that he's cocky, though he contends its just confidence. Perry sees football and particularly the injuries keeping him humble as he enjoys his first taste of glory at the college level.

And besides, if success does go to his head, his ringing ears should keep him on course.

"There are things I'll harp on him for," Locksley said. "He cost us a five-yard penalty when he wasn't paying attention to personnel groups. Once, we checked [audibled] a play at the line of scrimmage and he didn't get the check. I think [Friedgen] and myself have to keep the heat and challenge on him. He is going to have to do it in practice every day. If you watched the way he practiced the 10 days before Carolina, he was prepared to have a game like that."


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