SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Urban Meyer and his coaching staff were tough when they got to Ohio State in 2012. Very tough.
“There weren’t a lot of hugs or pats on the back being given out,” senior linebacker Joshua Perry said on Wednesday as Ohio State prepared for this afternoon’s Fiesta Bowl game against Notre Dame.
Win or lose, there will probably be some hugs for Perry as he says good-bye to teammates who have produced some of the greatest moments in Ohio State football history in the last four years.
And, if things go as he hopes, there will be more hugs from family and friends in late April during the NFL draft.
Perry committed nearly two years before he signed and graduated from Olentangy High School in the middle of his senior year to get an early start on his Ohio State career.
What he walked into at OSU was a changing of the guard that included constant pressure to change and get better.
“It was definitely tough. I think that is what molded me a lot more than just the overall experience was coming in at that time because there was pressure everywhere. It wasn’t very happy, if you will,” Perry said.
“It was something I needed coming out of kind of a bubble in high school. I’m very grateful for that opportunity,” he said.
On Thursday, OSU coach Urban Meyer praised the entire senior class, including Perry, for buying into his way of doing things in 2012, saying the coaches feel “very strongly” about them.
“A group of coaches came in after a seven-loss season and it was a leap of faith, of blind faith, to follow a group of coaches like they did,” Meyer said.
Perry, who graduated from Ohio State in December, will leave OSU as a three-year starter and as a first-team All-Big Ten player.
As he leaves, he will have checked off almost all the things he wanted to do when he arrived.
“Obviously, I wanted to win Big Ten championships. Coming in here I wanted to compete for national championships. Individually, I wanted to be first-team All-Big Ten. I wanted to leave as a graduate of the university and I just wanted to leave an impact on the community personally in terms of getting involved in some of the activities I did, based on football and the platform I was given by coming to school here,” Perry said.
Perry weighed 220 pounds when he first got to Ohio State and weighs 250 pounds now. A series of before and after pictures, showing what strength coach Mickey Marotti’s program had done for him which circulated on the internet revealed tremendous growth.
Perry says there has been growth in many other ways the last four years.
“It’s just the whole package. Mentally, you’ve seen a growth of my knowledge of the game and those sorts of things, but also maturity-wise. You come to school 17 years old and, hopefully, from 17 to 21 you see some leaps and bounds in maturity. If you don’t, there’s something wrong,” he said.
The turning point in his career, if there is one that stands out, came during his sophomore year. It wasn’t one play or one game. It was just the gradual realization that things were starting to work.
“Midway through my sophomore year was when I probably started seeing a turnaround in my confidence in my play, demeanor and all those sort of things. I think each year I’ve seen improvement in all the things I’ve been trying to do,” he said.
Once Ohio State wins the 50th game of his career or settles for 49 in the Fiesta Bowl, Perry will turn his attention to the NFL.
There are no hugs there, either. But Perry thinks his skill, his hard work and four years at Ohio State have prepared him for the next level.
Asked how he would describe himself to an NFL scout, he said, “I’m a high motor guy for sure. My approach to the game is just giving it all I have every time. I like to say that I’m a cerebral guy but I don’t like to let that get the best of me. I’ve been fortunate to be in positions around a lot of great players and that has allowed me to make plays. But I’ve also stepped out and done some things.
“I’ve become a little bit better pass rusher this year but there are still some things to work on there. I think the one thing that people maybe have is how I move in space. I think when they test me they’re going to see I move a little bit better than they think.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.