‘Seeing is believing’ with Perry

IMG head coach Kevin Wright, an Indiana transplant, talks about his role in Spencer Perry’s recruitment and what Notre Dame will get in the safety.

It took barely a month for Kevin Wright to get a handle on Spencer Perry.

Wright took over the powerhouse IMG Academy program in Bradenton, Fla., this off-season and put his players through an April boot camp. Wright wanted to improve his roster. He also wanted to learn about it after taking the job a month earlier, replacing former Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke, who’d left for the St. Louis Rams.

“We brought in drill instructors from the military that do this sort of thing. It was very, very high intensity,” Wright said. “We got finished on Saturday, and the kids went home. On Sunday, I’m walking through campus, and I see Spencer working out on the track. I went up to him and asked him why he was working out.

“He told me, ‘Coach, I don’t take days off. I want to be the best.’ I told him he might want to rest his body just one day before spring practice started up. But that’s the type of kid he is. That’s what sets him apart.  A lot of kids have the talent, but he has the mental component, too, and he’s willing to do what it takes.”

Notre Dame’s commitment list in the Class of 2016 hit double-digits when the 6-foot-3, 200-pound safety announced for the Irish on Monday. Perry also held offers from Auburn, Arizona, Clemson, Florida, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oregon and Vanderbilt.

“He was probably under the radar until about six or seven months ago,” Wright said. “Seeing is believing with him. When you meet him, shake his hand and see him play, it’s hard not to be impressed.

“As a safety, he’s long and rangy, and he’s got that body type that you look for at the position. He’s blessed physically with those characteristics. He’s got the size and range to become a high level guy. And he’s a yes sir, no sir type of kid.”

With Notre Dame in dire need of safeties this cycle, Perry offers versatility as a potential utility player at the back end.

“With the evolution of college football, it seems everyone is playing some type of six-man front with five defensive backs,” Wright said. “So he runs like a free safety, but he can spin down, too and play strong safety/nickel. He’s big enough and physical enough to do that. There’s a lot of range with him because he has the ability to do both. He’s definitely a hybrid guy.”

After one spring season of working together, Wright got a firm handle on what to expect from one of his most talented players.
“He’s a little soft-spoken, and he leads by example, but he’s willing to speak up if he needs to,” Wright said. “He communicates well on the back end of the defense and up to the entire unit. It’s hard to watch a kid like that and not be impressed first and foremost by how he leads by example. At the end of the day, you want your leaders to be your hardest workers.”

Before Wright took the job at IMG in late March, he spent five seasons at Carmel High School on the north side of Indianapolis. He led the program to three state championships and a national No. 8 ranking after the 2011 season.

Before Carmel, Wright’s resume included being offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky and head coach of Indianapolis (Ind.) Warren Central, where he won three consecutive Class 6A state championships.  

“We have coaches on our staff with backgrounds from all over the country, and mine happens to be from the Midwest,” Wright said. “I was able to tell Perry, you’ll survive the snow, you’ll be OK. We don’t force schools on the kids, but I was able to address his concerns. I told him he needed to visit there and meet the people. I know Mykelti Williams and Drue Tranquill, and personality-wise, he reminds me very much of those two. I told him I think you’re right in line with those two guys.

“At the end of the day, it’s about who you’re comfortable with, and I was able to play out the Midwest for him.”

Despite his status as a Florida Gators’ commitment, Perry was considered a Notre Dame lean following his first visit to campus for the Irish Invasion. Within the week that followed, he de-committed from Florida and committed to Notre Dame.

“We talked about it, and he’s a very smart guy,” Wright said. “He’s got a good family. There were two or three schools that really piqued his interest. We talked a lot about Notre Dame. We had the conversation about the perception of Notre Dame coming from the South. We talked not just about the football piece, but the academic piece. That’s big for our kids.”

Perry joins IMG teammate running back Tony Jones Jr. as one of Notre Dame’s three 2016 commitments from Florida. 

“I’m very excited for Spencer and his Notre Dame decision,” Wright said.  “A lot of our kids are looking for the total package, and he’s one of them.”

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