IOWA CITY - Last year, Cedar Rapids Kennedy came up just short in its bid to unseat Cedar Falls for Mississippi Valley Conference girls' swimming supremacy.
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No. 15 ... Junior outside linebacker Travis Perry (6-3, 232) is now on scholarship. This is new news. When asked the question before the Outback Bowl in January, he said he wasn’t on scholarship. This spring, head coach Kirk Ferentz said Perry had earned one, just in time for his debut as a starter.
Can’t imagine Perry slowed his approach to the game since he is now earning free school for football.
We’re talking about a fourth-year junior who’s played a lot of football, be it on special teams or as the No. 2 OLB. This isn’t a silver-spoon career. Perry, an Urbandale, had to wait nearly four years for this, and you know a player who’s earned his way in isn’t about to let up.
“Travis joined us as a walk-on player,” outside linebacker coach LeVar Woods said. “He’s put himself in position to compete for playing time from the moment he stepped on campus. He did that by being smart and athletic.”
Perry has had the meter running. Even when working special teams, he saw ways to use the techniques learned there as a linebacker.
“Coming out of high school, I didn’t play much special teams because you go both ways,” Perry said. “It’s a little different. You learn a lot of techniques that can help you on defense, using your hands and quick swipe-over moves. So definitely, it helps coming from special teams to the defense.”
After a moribund 2012 season, Iowa’s senior defensive players herded their teammates to video study during the offseason (mostly in the summer). Everyone credited that for a rise in football IQ that ultimately put Iowa No. 7 in the nation in total defense (the Hawkeyes’ highest finish of the Ferentz era).
Perry knows well that Iowa lost three senior linebackers (Christian Kirksey, Anthony Hitchens and James Morris), and so he knew even in January that the video study would continue in 2014.
“You can always learn more from film,” said Perry, who had 10 tackles last season. “Film makes great players. The more you can watch as a team, the better you’ll be in the end. We’re definitely going to keep that going ... When you watch film alone, you’ll catch some things. When you watch with a group, you’ll catch a lot more.”
Tough spring ... Perry was the lone starter who missed the spring game because of injury. He sat out with a concussion. He also had a virus during the spring that caused him to lose about a dozen pounds.
“Unfortunately for Travis, the last couple of weeks have been really bad for him health-wise,” Ferentz said. “It was one thing and then another thing. He got sick and lost 12 pounds, the whole 9 yards. The big thing with him right now is to try to get him relaxed and help him realize that he’s a valuable guy on our football team. It’ll be good to get him back healthy.”
Perry has been No. 2 outside linebacker for the past couple of seasons, sitting behind Christian Kirksey (who went to the Cleveland Browns in the third round of this spring’s NFL draft). Perry is the undisputed No. 1 when healthy. For the spring game, redshirt freshman Josey Jewell, a 6-2, 225-pounder from Decorah, started in his place, with red-shirt freshman walk-on Bo Bower, a former West Branch prep, backing him up.
Steady climb up the depth chart ... Perry’s rise to the No. 2 spot was quick for a young walk-on. Here’s what the Iowa staff has seen: “He has a very uncanny knack in zone coverage, to be in the right place at the right time,” Woods said. “He reads routes really, really well.”
What Woods would like Perry to fine tune: “The things that he needs to work on that we’re working on with him are just his reaction to certain blocks and how he takes those blocks on.” And “The other thing that we’re with him trying to work on improving is his pass rush skills. Those are things that he hasn’t had to do in the past. He played in the secondary as a safety in high school.”
Outlook ... Kirksey helped Iowa reshape how it thinks about outside linebacker. Woods, who played the position for the Hawkeyes from 1998-2000 and then went on to a seven-year career in the NFL, has said he played the position at 245 pounds. Kirksey was around 230 and Iowa asked him to cover a lot more ground.
“Christian Kirksey, who now I say that he sort of has broken the mold for LEOs,” Woods said. “He maxed out at 232, 234, something like that. He had to run. I couldn’t run like that. So, it’s just a little bit different. The game is more spread out. The game is more wide open, if you will, more passing, and you have to be able to run and react quicker than in the past. Gone are the days really of big 250-, 260-pound linebackers.”
More on Kirksey.
“Christian has exceptional, exceptional ability, uncanny ability,” Woods said. “Some things that you can’t teach. When I try to teach, I screwed them up, but he has an incredible ability. I think he has a very, very bright future at the next level, and it’s something that Christian, to me, is a type of player, a generational type player, if you will, where they only come along every 10 years or every so often. A very great young man, and he’ll be missed around here for a long time.”
Ferentz has described the outside linebacker position as one that really needs to work if Iowa’s defense is going to work the way it needs to. At least Perry knows what he’s getting into.
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