Cajun roundabout: Buffalo to Louisiana via California

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser
UL's Kevon Perry hauls down Texas A&M running back Keith Ford (7) last Saturday in College Station. It was one of Perry's nine tackles on the day.

Coming out of his Western New York high school, recruiters weren’t exactly knocking doors down to get at Kevon Perry.

In fact, only some NCAA Division III programs — non-scholarship — were interested.

“My head coach — this is how bad it is — he told me I couldn’t play Division I football,” Perry said. “So, me, I was really ready to settle down for DIII.

“But my dad talked me out of it, and I started getting a whole bunch of juco calls.”

Good advice on Pop’s part.

The road traveled to UL hasn’t been an easy one, but Perry — whose first name is pronounced KAY-von — has made it to the DI level.

He’s thriving, too, having made nine tackles including 2.0 for loss in the Cajuns’ 45-21 loss at Texas A& M last Saturday.

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The determined defensive lineman’s showing was a meaningful one for Perry, who evidently was underrated at Burgard High in Buffalo, New York.

“I just wanted to go out there and prove to everybody that I’m on this team too, and I can play as well as any competition,” said Perry, a senior who had 29 total tackles including 6.0 for loss over 13 games with five starts for the Ragin’ Cajuns in 2016.

“Since we were going against an SEC school, even though they thought I was too small to recruit me, I just went out there and did what I had to do.”

It was more than enough to make himself noticed, as evidenced by the reaction afterward.

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin offered personal postgame comments to Perry, and it seemed like every member of the Aggies offensive line took the time to shake his hand.

In the locker room after the SEC Network-televised game, Perry’s cellphone was blowing up.

“I felt like I got all their respect,” Perry said, adding he had experienced — despite the loss — “the most fun I ever had in a game.”

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During a senior high school season in which he registered a reported 85 tackles, Perry — one of six siblings — didn’t know much about the junior college football system.

But he took a chance on it anyway, deciding for reasons even he isn’t sure of on Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California.

 On occasion, times there were trying — especially for a hungry and driven 301-pounder.

“They (have) no meals plans," he siad. "No dorms, so I had to pay rent."

Cash was low, and the side job Perry thought he'd have never came to be.

“So some days I went without eating," he said. "But when it all came to it, it was worth it.

“It (didn’t) turn out the way I wanted it to,” he added, “but I stuck through it with the help of my mom and dad (Senele and Doug Perry) and now I’m here.”

Even getting to UL, though, came with some consternation.

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When his second season ended at Allan Hancock, where Perry was a two-time first team All-National Northern Conference who led all California jucos with 27 tackles for loss as a sophomore, no reach-outs were coming from Division I schools.

He wondered if any ever would.

Then one did, from UL, finally followed by a few more.

“It was a surprise to me,” he said of the Cajuns’ call.

“My dad called me and asked me did I hear from anybody, which I didn’t. Then as soon as I hung up with him, I get a call from a Louisiana number. … I answered, and it was Coach Harbin.”

Levorn Harbin is UL’s defensive line coach.

He had all sorts of questions, including one about Perry’s size.

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Allan Hancock for some reason had him listed at 5-foot-9. Perry says he’s more like 6-foot, and the Cajuns currently list him at 6-1.

Harbin and UL head coach Mark Hudspeth evidently like what they heard, and saw on film, and the two stayed on Perry — checking in regularly and asking all the time if he was on track academically to graduate.

Perry was.

New Mexico and Texas State wound up making offers too, and Hawaii showed some interest too, but ultimately it was an easy call for Perry to go with the Cajuns.

“I just felt they were the most interested,” he said, “so why not come here to play?”

Perry played right away at UL, making his first start in the 2016 season’s second game — against McNeese State — and starting as well against Idaho, Georgia Southern, Georgia and in a bowl bid-clinching win over UL Monroe.

He had four tackles and forced a fumble in a season-opening loss to Boise State, had four including a sack against South Alabama and had four with a pass breakup in UL’s New Orleans Bowl loss to Southern Mississippi.

Perry, who already has 18 total tackles in 2017, started this season splitting time with LaDarrius Kidd at defensive tackle.

But with standout senior nose tackle Taboris Lee struggling with an elbow injury, he got the start at Texas A&M and made the most of it.

More:UL dealing with key injuries prior to UL Monroe game

Now Perry is slated to start at three-technique defensive tackle when 1-2 UL opens Sun Belt Conference play against ULM on Saturday at Cajun Field, with Kidd listed behind Lee at least for now.

“That was great,” UL senior linebacker T.J. Posey said of the effort of Perry and Kidd and the rest of the Cajun line with Lee hurting in College Station.

“He (Perry) is very strong. We call him ‘Bull.’ He’s good at what he does. He likes to go make plays, so when the coaches tell him, ‘Go get it,' he likes to do that.”

Cajun coaches love seeing him do it, too.

“He’s not overly tall, not long,” Hudspeth said.

“But those inside guys don’t have to be. You know, he sort of gets under pass blockers, because he’s … got some explosion.

“He’s got a high motor, and he plays with relentless effort,” Hudspeth added. “He made some incredible plays the other night.”

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Hudspeth hopes for more of the same, particularly with Lee pushing through practice this week, but Cajun coaches are uncertain how effective he can be against the 0-2 Warhawks.

“He’ll need to continue doing that,” Hudspeth said of Perry, “especially until we can get Taboris (Lee) playing back to his 40-to-50 snaps-a-game regiment.”

Perry is confident he can.

And why not?

His father thought he could play Division I all along. He was willing to take the chance. And as for that high school coach back in Buffalo who thought he couldn't make it?

Perry’s message to him is short and to-the-point.

“Look at me now,” he said with a smile.