As the heart-and-soul of Ole Miss' efforts over a successful 9-4 season capped by a 47-34 win in the 73rd Annual Cotton Bowl Classic, former Rebel Peria Jerry wore a lot of hats.
He was the team's emotional leader and easily the most dominant lineman the Rebels had to offer. Jerry finished the season first in the conference in TFLs (18.0), fifth in QB sacks (7.0) and tied for sixth in forced fumbles (2).
The former Ole Miss captain will now take his show to the next level, after being selected in the first round (24th overall) by the Atlanta Falcons Saturday.
"In our minds, Peria was one of the most disruptive and productive defenders in this year's draft," General Manager Thomas Dimitroff said in Jerry's introductory press conference. "So we were thrilled to have an opportunity to take him at No. 24. His work ethic, the way he puts himself on the line every play and doesn't turn his motor off for us, is very important to our team going forward."
After landing in Atlanta, for the team he said showed the most interest, Jerry has found a system tailor-made for his abilities.
Under second-year head coach Mike Smith, the Falcons run a traditional 4-3 defense, focusing on gap control and defensive tackles that can cause chaos inside.
"I think I fit into his style of play," said Jerry of Smith's defensive scheme. "Coach Smith is a defensive-minded coach. We're going to be solid up front. They've already got a lot of talent on defense, but I think I can bring a lot to the team."
As the former defensive coordinator in Jacksonville, Smith groomed the likes of perennial Pro Bowl tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson.
Further, defensive end Bobby McCray became just the fourth Jaguar to record at least 10 sacks in 2005.
"I'm very excited to add Peria," Smith also said in Jerry's introductory press conference. "He's a very aggressive defensive tackle. He was someone we had targeted early on. We want to be able to stop the run and I really believe it starts with the two defensive tackles up front. I think with Peria coming in and Jonathan Babineaux, we have two real fine defensive tackles now."
Jerry earned a school-record four SEC weekly awards and tied for 11th in the nation for TFLs as a senior. He also led an Ole Miss defense ranked No. 2 in the SEC and No. 4 in the nation in rush defense (85.5 ypg).
The 6-foot-2, 290 pounder was one of three finalists for the Conerly Trophy, given to Mississippi's top collegiate player, and was deemed a consensus first team All-SEC selection.
"I'm very excited to join the Atlanta Falcons," said Jerry. "I think it's the best fit for me. They're the team I felt the most comfortable with. I feel blessed."
More than anything else, however, Jerry has a passion for the game unlike any other.
From his humble beginnings in nearby Batesville, to a pitstop at Hargrave Military Academy, Jerry has always been driven to prove his doubters wrong.
"I know what got me here," Jerry said. "I just have to stay focused and continue to work hard."
Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt knows he'll do just that.
"Peria Jerry – you can't draw those people up," he said. "They're special."
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