As one of the most talented members of the Colorado football team’s freshman class, Mark Perry figured to be in line for a lot of playing time this season, if not challenge for a starting job.
Three games into the season, however, the safety/star back had yet to see the field.
“I wasn’t ready,” Perry said this week. “There’s more things you have to pay attention to that you didn’t have to in high school, so I feel like not playing those three games is probably better for me because I was able to really get my mind right and pay attention and learn instead of having an attitude and going off pouting.”
Last week, Perry finally made his debut, playing eight snaps on defense at the star position, as well as playing on special teams.
“It gave me a lot of confidence just because it was my first college game and I got a tackle on special teams, so it boosted my confidence to be able to go out and make more plays,” he said.
Perry getting on the field is a testament to the developmental process first-year head coach Mel Tucker uses with his players.
While much of CU’s emphasis each week is on getting the starters and top backups ready to play that week’s game – this week, the Buffs (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) host Arizona (3-1, 1-0) at Folsom Field (2:30 p.m.; TV: Pac-12 Networks) – the coaches don’t ignore the rest of the roster.
Perry and other players get plenty of work in at the end of practices, taking advantage of the reps and the attention from coaches.
“He’s more ready now than he was before,” Tucker said of Perry. “And that’s because he’s continued to stay with it. We coach him hard and he responds to tough coaching, which is a credit to him.”
Given CU’s lack of experience and depth at safety, Perry, from Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) High School, was expected to compete for a starting role.
“Mark Perry looks like he belongs out there,” Tucker said early in August camp. “He just needs to learn what to do.”
Learning often isn’t quick or easy for freshmen, however, and Perry has experienced some growing pains, especially as he has transitioned from safety to star, which is a linebacker/safety hybrid position that requires a lot in Tucker’s defense.
“It was a big step from high school to college,” Perry said. “Fall camp, that was totally new – how fast practice was, how (Tucker) wanted things to be done fast, physical, and that was new to me. I wasn’t used to that.”
Learning the complicated defense installed by Tucker and coordinator Tyson Summers is a process, too.
“This is only my third year playing defensive back, so I’m still learning kinda,” Perry said. “It was pretty tough at first but I’d come in watch film with coach Summers and just keep learning.
“Now I feel pretty comfortable with it. I feel a lot more comfortable with it now with older guys like Davion (Taylor) in front of me, teaching me and showing me the ropes. It’s a lot easier.”
Although Tucker is excited about Perry’s potential, he wasn’t surprised by the time needed to get ready.
“He’s a good player,” Tucker said. “We’ve always felt that way. Making the jump from high school to college is not the easiest thing in the world to do, especially at the position that he’s playing. And so I commend him for continuing to work and progress. That’s what we want. We want improvement throughout the season for these guys.”
Perry continues improving, but isn’t necessarily in a rush. Last year, the NCAA changed the redshirt rule, allowing players to participate in up to four games and maintain a redshirt. Perry could play in three more games and still have four years after this one.
“If I can go the whole season and not play in (more than) four games and end up redshirting, that would be good, because I got this whole year of experience and it basically didn’t count,” he said. “That would be nice. But, you never know, it’s football, so if anybody gets hurt I’m the next man up so I’m gonna be ready either way.”