For a while, it felt like E.J. Perry was hopscotching between two worlds. In theory, he was still a high schooler. And he was diving head first into college, arriving at Boston College in January as a grayshirt to get a jump on his freshman season.
One day, he’d have to be at The Heights for orientation. The next, he was back at Andover High School for finals. The day after that he was back on campus at BC for his first class.
“It was quick,” he said. “It was no break in between.”
At the same time, Perry was trying to get himself as ready as possible for the next step. Not only as the quarterback recruited by the Eagles with high expectations after amassing the second-most touchdown passes in Massachusetts high school history (114) and being named the Globe’s Division 1 Player of the Year, but also as a 17-year-old trying to make the adjustment to college as quickly as possible.
His home wasn’t far from campus, so he made time to do some test runs. He came to The Heights one weekend, class schedule in hand, and walked to each one to make sure he knew where he was going.
Being prepared was important.
“Confidence comes from preparation, is how I like to think about it,” Perry said. “You’re never going to be confident if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
But that preparation is also a part of Perry’s DNA.
From the time he was a toddler, he was surrounded by family who spent their lives putting X’s and O’s together.
He watched the work his father, E.J. Perry III, put in to win numerous state titles in boys’ basketball and boys’ volleyball [in Salem, N.H.], while also leading Andover High’s football program. Perry’s grandfather and great-grandfather were both coaches. His uncle Tim was a standout quarterback at Harvard. His uncle James starred at quarterback at Brown, then spent seven years as Princeton’s offensive coordinator before becoming Bryant’s head coach in January. His uncle John was a four-year starter at receiver at New Hampshire before starting his coaching career at Merrimack, then on to Delaware, and now in the NFL as tight ends coach for the Houston Texans.
“Growing up in a family where he’s seeing his dad, how hard he worked preparing a game plan, whether it was me when I was in town, how things go, I think you get a different perspective,” John Perry said. “I think that’s what’s added to the maturity level that little E.J. has because his approach has always been from that perspective. He knows that if he wants to be as good as he wants to be, he’s going to have to put a lot of work into it.”
Perry was born into a family with a strong football legacy, but he never shied away from carrying it. When his father and uncles would joke, the way siblings do, about their accomplishments, E.J. would chime in.
Throughout high school, his family’s name preceded him. The generation before him was a point of comparison, a measuring stick.
“He heard things,” Perry’s father said. “ ‘Is he as good as this one or that one?’ ”
During basketball season, E.J. would see his uncle Tim’s name on the 1,000-point scorers list in the gym. He told him he would be up there too, eventually.
“He did get his 1,000 points, but Timmy would still say, well, he’s ahead of him,” Perry’s father said. “Then E.J. would say, ‘Well, I only played 3½ years.’ It’s a fun rivalry.”
But in a way, E.J. has always had his own coaching staff around him. His father was always the steady voice.
“There was never really a separation between coach-dad and dad-dad,” Perry said. “He’s him 100 percent of the time. It was incredibly valuable, and our relationship is unbelievable because of it, and it’s something I wouldn’t be able to live without.”
But Perry’s uncles were like coaches in the booth, spotting details from above. When he was at Merrimack, John would watch E.J’s game tape and find little things to refine. It could’ve been something as simple as keeping his foot behind his hips to get more power behind his throw, but it was valuable.
“He got to see it,” John said. “It adds to his maturity level, he’s been able to see things from a perspective of, ‘I’m not your coach on a daily basis, so what are you seeing and here’s how I would see it if I were you.’ So it’s that outsider’s voice. It’s not your father, it’s not your coach, it’s not the guy that you’re talking to a thousand times a day. So sometimes that stuff helps.
“I would tell E.J. all the time when he would come through in the summertime: The technique is no different than what anybody taught him when he was in the sixth grade. You just have to refine it and refine it and refine it. Just keep getting better and better.”
When John was hired by the Texans three years ago, it opened a new window for E.J. He took trips to Houston and not only got a close-up view of an NFL organization but a deep look at the meticulous work that goes into being successful at that level.
“Going out there was just so influential,” Perry’s father said. “To see him coach and literally be 5 feet from the sidelines when John was coaching and see all the particulars that you don’t get from me as a high school guy, I’m more big picture. John would just tell him stories about all the guys he meets. Like, ‘EJ, you don’t understand, this guy has a better arm than this guy, but this guy is in the film room for this many hours, and that’s why this guy plays, and that guy doesn’t. In the NFL, these are the little differences.’ ”
Knowing that has already prepared E.J. for the college level.
“When I got here, it was a complete shell shock,” he said. “Every single one of these guys is from a completely different part of the country, playing big-time football since they were also 9 years old, and they’re all really talented guys. So it’s just fun and cool to see this accumulation of talent.”
It’s the reason Perry is in the gym early for workouts. It’s the reason he watches patiently but intently as Darius Wade and Anthony Brown compete for the Eagles’ starting quarterback job in spring practice. To pick things up as quickly as possible.
“Just the other day, he said, ‘Dad, you did a good job, but coach [Scott] Loeffler taught me more in one practice than you taught me in four years,’ ” Perry’s father joked. “So that was a little humbling for me.”
But the token of advice Perry did get from his father before he took the next step is a lasting one.
“Always be willing to learn, always be willing to work,” his father told him. “You’re going to work hard, you’re going to be prepared. But the things I would talk about would be leadership. Leadership is more than talking, it’s more than rah-rah. You are setting an example with everything you do. So when you walk on that field, you set the example.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.