July 16, 2014
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- While Travis Perry defends on gridirons of the Midwest, his biggest fan will defend freedom in Afghanistan.
It is shaping up to be a bittersweet junior season for Perry, a one-time walk-on linebacker from Urbandale, Iowa, who earned a scholarship in the spring. With graduation losses to 2013 starters Anthony Hitchens, Christian Kirksey, and James Morris, there will be much more playing time for players like Perry, who is listed as a preseason first-stringer at outside linebacker.
Perry's biggest fan -- his father Russ -- left for Texas on (appropriately enough) Independence Day to prepare for a nine-month tour in Afghanistan. He will not be among the 70,000-plus fans who will attend Hawkeye games every week in person this season.
"He has a little over a year until retirement," Perry said of his father. "This being my junior season probably wasn't the best timing, but he is in the Army, he's there to defend our country's freedom, and that's what he is going to do."
Russ Perry, 55, flies C-12 aircraft in the Army National Guard. Father is undoubtedly busting his buttons over his son's ascent up the Hawkeye depth chart; son is equally pleased with his father's service to the United States.
"It's tough to say goodbye for now, but he's in the Army National Guard for a reason," Perry said. "There is always that possibility. We've been at war for a while now; it's extremely humbling at his age to be able to go over there and fight for our country and it makes me extremely proud."
Perry says he will mail his father DVDs of every Iowa game.
"It's tough to say goodbye for now, but he's in the Army National Guard for a reason. There is always that possibility. We've been at war for a while now; it's extremely humbling at his age to be able to go over there and fight for our country and it makes me extremely proud."
But it won't be the same as seeing the action live.
"It's hard; he's one of my biggest supporters," Perry said. "Being in a position where I might play more this year, it is extremely tough."
The 6-foot-3, 232-pound Perry saw action in all 13 games last season, making 10 tackles.
"I played a lot of special teams these past two years and that was fun," Perry said. "You learn a lot and special teams is a vital component of the game of football. But it's time for me to step up and help lead this team."
He had a good role model in Kirksey, who was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Kirksey was third on the team with 104 tackles a year ago, behind Hitchens (112) and Morris (107).
"I'm great friends with Chris and I still keep in contact with him," Perry said. "Any time you lose a great player like that it's tough, but you learn a lot and Chris has taught me a ton, whether it's watching film or learning different moves. That is going to pay dividends in the fall."
Coming out of high school, Perry had a "handful" of scholarship offers from Football Championship Subdivision schools, but his parents allowed him to make his college decision and follow a dream to Iowa City.
"For me it came down to wanting to play at the highest level. I didn't want to have that question of what if," Perry said.
Now Perry is in the mix for an expanded role for the Hawkeyes, who return 14 starters from a team that went 8-5 and played in the 2014 Outback Bowl. He said the summer goal is to become better individually so that when the season opener arrives, the Hawkeyes will be better collectively.
For Perry, that means transferring what he learns on film to the practice and playing field.
"We have to keep pushing ourselves and making ourselves better every day," Perry said. "Linebacker is a leadership position and it's our turn to step up and be leaders of this football team."
Leadership is an attribute that appears to trickle down the Perry family tree.