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Recovery Mission

UCLA's Perry eager to put injuries aside as he seeks to fulfill potential

September 12, 2002|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Road trip.

You'll understand if Tab Perry hopes this one doesn't last as long as his last one.

He spent six uncomfortable nights at Pullman Memorial Hospital last November with a partially collapsed lung and broken ribs after being hurt in the Bruins' loss to Washington State.

Groggy from pain medication, with his parents at his bedside, Perry greeted an unusual parade of visitors.

There was Washington State Coach Mike Price.

"He's a real good guy, a real good coach," Perry said. "He brought me McDonald's one morning."

Said Price: "An Egg McMuffin. I'd try to be there and cheer him up. We tried to get him all decked out in Cougar gear, but we wanted to make him as comfortable as possible."

There were others.

"Marcus Trufant, the one that hit me, he came by," Perry said. "[Lamont] Thompson, the guy who had four interceptions. Jason Gesser, the quarterback. A linebacker.

"Most of the time I was in and out, all the drugs and everything. But I get hurt, and a lot of their guys come by. It was just reassuring. They let me know that I'm not in this by myself."

He is back among his own now, ready to depart with the rest of the Bruins for Stillwater, Okla., to play Oklahoma State on Saturday in UCLA's first road game of 2002. This time, he plans on coming home with the team.

The vague lack of ease that accompanied Perry onto the field at the end of last season is gone.

Though he returned after three weeks to play in the last game against Arizona State, he didn't catch a pass, playing with a cracked rib while wearing a quarterback's rib guard.

"Going across the middle, it made me think about it a little, like I hope I don't get hit and get hurt. I tried to get over that real fast," Perry said.

Last week in the victory over Colorado State, he had two receptions for 43 yards--including the 15-yarder that gave the Bruins a first and goal at the five-yard line to set up the go-ahead touchdown.

"That first play of the Colorado State game I had to go across the middle. I got popped pretty hard," Perry said. "Nothing hurt, so I was like, 'Come on, it's on.' "

Now the supremely confident junior is eager to make good on the potential evident in his 6-foot-3, 220-pound NFL receiver's body and his skills as a kick returner.

Despite not having a catch over the last three games last season, he led UCLA with 416 receiving yards in only 21 catches--a 19.8 average.

After waiting for his turn behind Freddie Mitchell and Brian Poli-Dixon, Perry rededicated himself during workouts this summer at home in Northern California. Now he has a chance to become a star.

"I think he could be as good as anyone we've had," receiver coach Ron Caragher said. "Whatever you would look for in body type for a receiver, he's probably got it: size, speed, strength, athleticism, jumping ability, hand-eye coordination."

Ambition? Perry has that too.

"In a perfect world, if I could have it my way, I'd have 70 catches, about 1,500 yards, like 19 touchdowns," said Perry, listing numbers that would put him among UCLA's top five single-season leaders in every category.

"That'd be perfect, but I know it's not going to be like that.... Next year, it's going to be like that."

The confidence shouldn't be surprising. After all, he wears No. 1 on his jersey.

"You can't wear that number if you're not confident," Perry said.

Caragher sees self-assurance but not cockiness.

"He's a confident individual, not boisterous like one or two of the guys we've had before," Caragher said. "He's confident and knows he can compete against a lot of people and be successful. That's important."

Still, Perry's confidence put him in hot water last week when he told a reporter he didn't think UCLA would have any trouble with Colorado State.

Coach Bob Toledo let him know during a team meeting to tone down the bulletin-board material.

"He was saying, 'Keep your mouth shut. If that's what you think, that's fine. But we don't need that attention--especially with all the stuff that's going on,' " Perry said.

"After the meeting, a couple of people asked me about it and said, 'Is that what you said?'

"I said, 'I'm not going to lie to you, that's what I said: I don't think they're very good and I think we're going to beat the ... out of them.' "

The final score says so, 30-19. But Perry didn't like all that he saw.

"How should I say this? We just weren't executing," he said. "There were a lot of plays we really messed up.

"We had a couple of young guys, so there might have been jitters. We just overcame that with athletic ability. They might have done the wrong thing, but they made up for it by making the big play.

"A little bit of our timing was off on the passing game. That might have been a little bit of jitters too.

"I can't really say anything about the coaching, but I know there was a couple of times where--nah, I'm not going to say anything. I'll leave that one alone. It was a little chaotic on the sidelines, I'll say that, the personnel, some little incidents. Nothing too serious."

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