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SOUTH COAST LEAGUE | PREP FOOTBALL '96

Mater Dei's Perry Can Carry His Weight

Frequent moves have forced the running back to grow up quickly.

September 10, 1996|WENDY WITHERSPOON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — The child carefully wraps his photo album and adds it to the cardboard box in the garage--he knows exactly which box it goes in by now.

He wonders where he will set up his baseball trophies in his new bedroom, and how his Little League team will ever get by without him.

And he huddles in the car and sleeps on the way to New York or Fresno or Seattle or Anaheim--whichever town has a football team that needs his dad as an assistant coach.

And one move falls in the middle of baseball season and Rod Perry Sr. feels so guilty for uprooting his son, again, that he tries to make up for it by finally allowing the child to play football that fall.

And Rod Perry Jr., fifth-grader, grins as he marches to football practice--just like his dad--and takes a seat among a group of boys who look about his size. The coaches interrogate the newcomer and send him to join the boys his age, a year younger.

If Perry were any older than 10, perhaps he would have said, "I'm in the right place."

He may have never played a down before, but learning to backpedal at age 2 gave Perry a sense for the game.

"The reality is, we could put him anywhere on the football field and he would be successful," Mater Dei Coach Bruce Rollinson said.

After seven moves in the past 14 years, including the last one which tore him from his family in Sugarland, Tex., Mater Dei has become a home away from home.

The last 12 months were an especially difficult journey. Last September he left Texas, where his father is working as an Oiler assistant, to return to Mater Dei for his junior season. Two weeks later, he sustained a season-ending knee injury.

Perry's knee is recovered and he sat in a classroom at the school recently, looking forward to the start of this season.

"I feel like a part of everything again now," he said.

Perry has been waiting for that feeling ever since he was born, the year before his dad played in Super Bowl XIV for the Rams.

On the coaching track, Rod Perry Sr. followed Chuck Knox back to the Rams in 1992 and Rod Perry Jr. enrolled at Mater Dei as a freshman the next year. In his first year on the varsity as a sophomore in 1994, Perry caught 59 passes for 1,191 yards and helped Mater Dei to the Southern Section Division I title.

All the while, he was watching the Rams' impending move to St. Louis and knew he would be moving again soon.

At Sugarland Clements High, Perry faced a Texas attitude. Clements coaches scoffed at Perry's accomplishments, he said, and made him feel unwelcome.

"[It was] the mentality, that's really the best way I can put it," he said.

The Perrys eventually put their son on a plane and arranged for him to live with the family of a Mater Dei player.

"I miss him," said Rod Perry Sr. "But we feel in the end it's probably going to be a good move for him."

Perry was eligible at Mater Dei last season because he never played in a game for Clements. On his first play back in a Mater Dei uniform, Sept. 22, Perry turned a short pass into a 25-yard touchdown.

Two weeks later, however, he blew out his anterior cruciate ligament. For the rest of his junior year, Perry went to physical therapy every day after school.

"It was by far the longest year ever," he said.

This from someone experienced about long years. And 1996 should fly by quickly.

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