CHAMPAIGN - Travis Perry graduated with a criminal justice degree from Western Michigan University. So, no, the kid from Marcellus, Mich. -- a small farm town between Kalamazoo and South Bend, Ind. -- never envisioned spending his days in a Big Ten football office creating graphics for recruiting purposes.
But he's glad he made the rash decision to join the crazy world of college football.
"I actually had a job doing what I graduated in. I was a case manager, so I would have prison parolees and I would help them find jobs and do that kind of stuff," Perry said. "It's funny, I was going to sign a three-year contract (for a criminal justice job) on a Friday. Minnesota called me Thursday night. Literally, I just took it and said, 'I'm going to go live a dream because I'm not really liking what I'm doing.' I've always been a sports fanatic, so I took it. I just wanted to live a dream and see what college sports was like."
Perry, 28, joined the burgeoning business of college football graphic design at Minnesota -- where his brother Dustin was a strength coach -- in a volunteer role. That's where he met Josh Sternquist, then an assistant recruiting coordinator for the Gophers.
When Sternquist accepted the director of player personnel position at Illinois under new coach Lovie Smith, he quickly reached out to Perry to be the Illini's in-house graphics guy for a beefed-up Illinois recruiting department.
"Travis is a great kid who embodies everything I was looking for in the position," Sternquist said. "Not just someone who's fluent in graphics but someone with personality and who loves the game of football. He's a great addition and you can feel his presence in the process."
Perry, who describes himself as a "self-taught" designer, quickly accepted the role -- which boosts the Illini's digital marketing presence and allows Sternquist and the rest of his staff to focus on other recruiting tasks.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime offer to work for Coach Smith," Perry said. "Once Josh offered me the job, I took it on the spot."
Illini Inquirer caught up with Perry to discuss his role and why it's become such a focus in college football.
For people who don't know. What is an 'edit'? The kids throw that term around a lot.
Perry: "(Laughs) An edit pretty much is a Twitter profile pic, a Facebook profile pic, anything that puts them in something other than themselves, you know what I'm saying? So, it's something they don't have in a picture themselves. Any time a kid asks for an edit, I'm just trying to give them a picture of what they look like in the orange and blue. So that is an edit."
When did this become a thing in college football?
Perry: "It's new really. People used to do it back in the day. Wheaties boxes, they'd put kids on the cover of those. Sports Illustrated was big. But now, it's really kind of taken off the past two or three years. Now, even our current players are reaching out to me. Everyone wants an edit. It's really taken off the past two or three years, which has really worked out for me because now, there's going to be a lot of opportunity. But I don't see myself ever leaving this place. It's a beautiful school, campus and with this staff and everything."
So now that the current players know they have an edit guy, they're already flooding into you?
Perry: "They are. My first day here, Jaylen Dunlap noticed my computer and he sat next to me for a little bit and just watched. He said, 'I need to get one of those.' Once the edits started getting out for recruits, our players noticed and guys like Milan and Jones, they started messaging me on Twitter. They sent me a picture and said, 'Hey, do something with this.' It's awesome. That's the best part of my job, I think, when you take something and you see the satisfaction that these kids get."
What's the importance of this? How big of an effect does a picture have on a recruit?
Perry: "I think it's very important. Any time they can see the Illinois logo or the colors or anything like that, it leaves an impression. The more you do it, obviously, the more it's going to grow on them."
So you're basically a marketing guy?
Perry: "Pretty much, very much. I'll send kids an edit, and when they reach back and they want more, then you're obviously doing something right because the more you can put them in our colors, it really starts to grow on them. Then you put them with Coach Smith and you put them with all of our coaches with all this NFL experience and they've played before. Once you keep giving them that kind of stuff and they can kind of envision it and picture it, it really starts to grow on them."
So what's the process? Does Josh initiate it or do you?
Perry: "It's kind of everybody. That's what's really nice about this staff. This staff appreciates the graphic design world. Any coach. I've had all the coaches come up to me at random points in the day and be like, 'Hey, this kid was talking about this in an article. Let's make something for it.' A kid wants to play in the NFL, so ideas pop up like, 'Well, our staff has this amount of experience, let's get him something.' Coach Smith will come up with some ideas. It comes from everywhere. Me too. If I read something somewhere, I just have my ideas in my head. If a kid posts something like a really nice picture of himself, I'll just take it and edit it for him. Birthday images or whatever. It comes from all over so it kind of gets chaotic at times."
What's the secret to a good edit?
Perry: "What's the secret to a good edit? Ooh, that's a tough one. The secret to a good edit I think is lighting. The jersey swaps are pretty big. And anytime you add smoke and fire and swag to it, I think that's the key to a good edit. What you sell obviously, what you have on there, is pretty key."
Is there a special edit for when players commit?
Perry: "You know I kind of change it up because I want every kid to feel it's more personalized. I don't put them all on the same template. Once kids commit, I try to do something really extra special for the committed ones."
The coaches are all bought into the graphics element?
Perry: "I feel like before I got here they didn't really know what the graphics would do for them. Once they've seen the recruits, all the positive reaction, they bought in. Now, I'm making the coaches posters in the meeting rooms and things like that. It's not just recruits anymore. The coaches want to see themselves."
So people who are like, 'They really need a graphics guy full-time?' well you're always working.
Perry: "I'm always working. If the coaches are here, I'm here because they'll come to me at 11 o'clock at night with an idea. Once an idea comes in your head, you need to get it out or you'll forget, so they'll come and see me. So, yeah, a lot of hours."
Kind of crazy how you ended up here doing this.
Perry: "It was a blessing that graphics opened up in Minnesota. Then when I started doing it, I found out I liked it and it kind of took off from there. It got me here. It's amazing."