Worth the wait
Redshirting Jeremy Perry has worked in the Beavers' favor
OREGON State head football coach Mike Riley made a tough decision concerning Jeremy Perry last year and both men are reaping the benefits this season.
Perry was part of the offensive line that opened holes for Yvenson Bernard on Saturday, when the Beavers upset No. 18 California 23-20 at Berkeley. Bernard rushed for a career-high 185 yards as OSU ended Cal's 10-game home winning steak.
Halfway through the 2004 season, Riley decided to redshirt Perry.
"When I first came in, I wanted to play, but I was having a hard time learning all the plays. There were a lot of plays, that was the hardest adjustment. Physically I was OK, but not mentally," said Perry, who also struggled with living on the mainland for the first time.
"I was homesick. There was the weather change, being away from my family for the first time," said Perry. "I didn't want to start playing partway through the season."
The decision was mutual, although Riley kept Perry on "alert status" just in case Roy Schuening or Josh Linehan were injured.
"Jeremy could have played last year easily. He did practice with the first team and did make road trips so he would know what that was all about," said Riley.
"At times I wished I did play him, but now I'm very happy that I didn't. He is doing a great job and will only get better. He will soon be recognized as one of the best offensive linemen in our conference."
Riley watched a lot of videotape and observed spring practice when Perry was a junior at Kahuku High School.
"I saw a very, very physical player who was athletic. That is like gold in recruiting. A player like that can be the foundation of your football team," said Riley. "And, how often is an offensive lineman the player of the year? That is unusual."
The 6-foot-2, 315-pound left guard was heavily recruited and almost ended up playing for the Hawaii Warriors.
"It's kind of a crazy story," said OSU assistant head and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh who was OL coach at UH during Perry's senior year at Kahuku.
"Jeremy called us the morning of signing and said he committed to us (Hawaii), but he never turned the letter of intent in," said Cavanaugh. "He changed his mind and went to OSU. Some of the players at UH gave me a hard time about that."
Perry recalled agonizing over his decision for several days.
"My mom wanted me to stay home, but I always wanted to go away. I wanted to try something different," said Perry, who also had offers from Michigan State, Nebraska, Utah, Colorado and Arizona.
Perry conquered the homesickness through long talks with his family and an unexpected hire.
"I realized Kahuku will always be home, but for the next four years, it will be a vacation home," he said. "When Coach Cav got an offer to come here that was another big thing."
Riley shifted Linehan to right tackle in spring practice so Perry could move into the starting left guard position.
"It was not a surprise that Jeremy could step in, but he had to perform. He kind of took the bull by the horns," said Riley.
Perry wasn't expecting to be the No. 1 left guard in the spring, but felt comfortable once he got the position. He also understood what Cavanaugh wanted out of him and what he wanted out of Cavanaugh.
"He wanted me to work hard and understand the game and I expected him to coach me up and make me a better player," said Perry.
Cavanaugh said, "Jeremy can be as good as I've ever had. What separates him is he is a real nasty guy on the field, as tough as them come, but all smiles off the field.
"We do a little bit of pulling, power plays, trap plays and he has the tools to do it all. He is a good run blocker and has great ability in pass protection.
"We're working on improving his fundamentals. Sometimes he gets overextended on his run blocks. Jeremy is just a young guy who can be a little raw, but repetitions are the greatest teacher for someone to become very proficient. I think eventually he will be an Outland Trophy finalist."
One thing that helped Perry adjust is the availability of local food.
"Right off campus, about a 5-minute walk, is a Local Boyz," Perry said. "They have a lot of local food and they have sticky rice and mac salad."
Three other players, freshman safety Al Afalava (Kahuku), sophomore offensive lineman Naymon Frank (Roosevelt) and freshman offensive lineman Tavita Thompson (Saint Louis), are on the Beavers roster.
Afalava is getting a lot of playing time as a true freshman at safety and is a "core player" on the special teams according to Riley, who recounts two plays Afalava made against Washington State on Oct. 1.
"He chased one guy down, stripped the ball and our other safety returned it 30 yards," said Riley. "Then, on what looked like a sure TD, Al came all the way across the field and knocked the guy out of bounds on the 1. We were behind at the time, but held and forced a field goal. That made a big difference, turned things around and we came back to win."
Frank was switched from defense to offense this year. Cavanaugh says he and Thompson have the potential to start.