Push Comes To Shove

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas senior Gene Perry was barely in grade school when he learned perhaps the most important lesson of his life: Listen to your father.

It happened one hot Starkville, Miss., summer day when Perry was mowing down rows of hay on a tractor.

Gene Perry Sr. still can't tell the story without chuckling.

"When we were cutting hay, we would always run into these black bumblebees," Perry Sr. said. "I would tell him, 'You watch those bees. Junior, if you ever run into them, don't go back through them. If you get away from them the first time, the second time you go through them they're going to get you.'

"He didn't listen to me on that one and, man, he ran through a big nest of those things and he got through them the first time. But when he ran the mower back through there to cut again, the bees ran that booger off of that tractor and he fled into the woods."

In the mad rush to avoid stings, Perry forgot to take the tractor out of gear.

"I had to run and fight the bees and try to get the tractor stopped to keep it from running over something," Perry Sr. said.

Dad raced to his son's side after stopping the tractor to help swat away still-swarming bees.

"After I got the bees off of him and he got quiet, I thought it was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen from him," Perry Sr. said. "It still is."

The Arkansas right guard returns to his roots today when the Razorbacks play Mississippi State in Davis Wade Stadium.

Starting all nine games this season, Perry is third on the team with 36 knockdown blocks. But his true importance to the Hogs can't be measured in numbers.

He's got size (6-foot-3, 310 pounds), talent and, apparently, heart.

"He plays the game the way it's supposed to be played and that's what we love about him," said Hogs offensive line coach Mike Markuson. "He never stops. Guys like Gene who are high-tempo, high-speed, he's what you want to coach.

"If you had a football team full of guys like him, you'd be really good because of his motor."

Up With The Sun
Every morning, even on Sundays, the Perrys rise before the sun.

"In my house, at 6 o'clock at the latest, you had to be up and doing something," Perry said. " My dad says there's always something to do around the house. A lazy man never gets anything done."

Perry Sr. is in construction and always has had his hands in everything from selling dirt to landscaping, whatever it takes to keep him busy from sun up to sun down and help put food on his family's table.

By the time Perry was 6, he was running down two lanes of 80-pound square hay bails at a time -- often 2,000-3,000 bails a day -- to load them onto his father's truck as it cruised through a field.

"When you got home, after dark usually, you'd look down at your hands and you had corns all across your hands from the twine on the bails," Perry said. "You would be like, 'God, how much more can I take of this?' And my dad would still be telling me, 'You have to push yourself ... You've got to push yourself.'"

Which is exactly what Perry did, following his father to hay fields and construction sites when not in school.

"Most guys, you go out and play with your fellow friends at that age," Perry said. "But my ol' man never did care too much about that. He wanted to show me what a man that works can accomplish in life."

No Bailing Out
The hard work and discipline formed the competitive spirit Razorbacks fans and coaches see each Saturday as Perry regularly grades out as one of the top linemen.

Maybe Perry sees defenders as hay bails, getting his hands on every one in his blocking lanes.

"He didn't let nothing get by him," Perry Sr. said. "He believed at six years old that he could do as much work as his daddy did.

"He grew up with that in him."

And it has stayed with Perry.

"He's one of the most aggressive guys that I've ever played against," said noseguard Jeremy Harrell, who regularly matches up with Perry in practice. "He has a great fire-off, and he's really strong and really quick. He's always grabbing you, holding you, hitting you, typical O-line stuff."

In the trenches those tactics are acceptable to an extent. But sometimes in practice, Perry doesn't turn off the intensity when he hears a whistle if he believes he's getting beat or has leverage on a defensive lineman.

The result often is a shoving match, which always stops on its own with no actual violence.

"Because he's Gene, he ain't stopping," said defensive tackle Keith Jackson. "He's not listening for the whistle, and if you want to keep going, he's going to keep going with you.

"You've just got to face the fact that that's Gene Perry right there. His motor is going to run 24/7."

Practice Makes ...
Perry said he's not trying to hurt anybody. He just wants to make himself and the team better each day and the defensive linemen are quick to point out that he receives as much punishment as he dishes out.

As Perry puts it, he's simply trying to win every battle.

"When you knock somebody down and put them on their butt, even if it's in practice, it just send chills over your body," Perry said. " I try to stop on the whistle, but at practice, I try to do a little bit more because that's where the game is won and we all will get the game won if we do a little bit more in practice."

Center Kyle Roper said the offensive line "feeds off" Perry's tenacious attitude.

"He's got a motor that never, ever stops," Roper said. "He's always trying to pump everybody up and get everybody going. When you have somebody that's ready to work like that, I think it goes down the line. He's helping lead the offensive line, and it's showing."

Right tackle Robert Felton said it's one reason the Hogs have been able to establish a consistent rushing attack the past two games while maintaining solid pass protection.

"He's always playing 110 percent and me playing next to him makes me want to go 110 percent," Felton said. "His work ethic encourages the whole offensive line to play harder, and he's a guy that makes everyone around him better.

"He's one of a kind. He's really going to be missed."

Back To Starkville
When Perry left Starkville for East Mississippi Junior College, he was relatively unknown. Even though he was raised in a college town, he attended to nearby Moor High, which is not a regular stop for Division I recruiters even though it produced NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice.

"Not many people came out into the boondocks," Perry said.

He tried out and made the junior college team -- he wasn't there for academic reasons and always has been a solid student-- earning JC Gridwire All-American honors and a scholarship to Arkansas.

Of course, Perry said he owes it all to his father.

"He's always pushing you," Perry said. "When you think you can't get any more, he always will tell you to go the extra mile. When you think you're tired and can't do any more, just go the extra mile.

"And that's the type of person that he is. He never gives up on anything. If he dreams it, he wants to be able to live it.

"He's always achieved his goals and so am I because that's basically what I've been trained to do."

Like most returning to play in their hometowns, Perry is excited to play in front of his family and friends today. He didn't want to talk much about the actual game, but his teammates bet he'll be talking once the whistle blows and shoving some after it.

"He talks a lot of crap," Harrell said. "Things like, 'Come on now. I'm coming today. If I don't bring it today, I'm bringing it tomorrow. Come on now.'

"He's just a blue-collar guy that clocks in and goes to work."

Because his father knew best.

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