Wiley Purry of Long Beach (Calif.) Long Beach Poly is surrounded by two motivational factors: The litany of football talent from the school, and the legacy of his head coach, Super Bowl-winning linebacker Antonio Pierce.
Purry’s game and recruiting period is starting to resemble what his head coach endured – the life of an overlooked prospect. The 5-foot-10, 225-pound 2018 linebacker has only received two letters from Harvard and Penn. He doesn’t come equipped with the size that most Division I programs covet, and looks diminutive compared to past great Poly defenders. Pierce went through something similar.
Pierce -- who played at 6-foot-1, 238 pounds in the NFL -- went from Paramount (Calif.) to Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif., before catching on at Arizona. The 2001 NFL Draft came and went without his name being called, and he signed with the Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent. He spent the next nine seasons in the NFL, reaching the mountaintop with the New York Giants in 2007.
How does Purry counter that dilemma? By taking on the Jackrabbits’ mindset: Be physical and don’t back down.
“Everyone knows me for that (being physical)," Purry said. "I don’t back down from no team and nobody."
Like Pierce, Purry does his damage as an inside linebacker, using strong angle pursuits and smart reaction traits to chase down running backs. His sideline-to-sideline destruction powered him to a team-leading 15.5 tackles for loss last season. Purry and 2017 Wildcats commit Joshua Brown were the only Jackrabbit defenders to average over 9.0 tackles per game, while going against some of Southern California’s best.
At a school that has produced NFL names like Stephone Paige, Mark Carrier, Willie McGinest, DeSean Jackson and Jurrell Casey, Purry said his all-time favorite Poly gridiron hero was his former teammate Brown.
“I’ve always watched him and look up to him, plus do everything he did,” Purry said. “That’s my big brother.”
Purry, who holds a 3.8 grade point average off the field, has spent his offseason working out with the Long Beach-based club team Apex to build on his drop back ability.
“I’m out here working on my coverage and my man because at Poly, we’re always running cover-5, especially to cover the slot man, so that’s why I’m out there,” Purry said.
Purry concludes that when it comes to being around the Super Bowl XLII winner Pierce, he spends more time learning the linebacker position from him than talking about Pierce’s past life of wrapping up running backs and wide receivers on Sundays.
“He’s taught me to use my hands more and be more physical,” Purry said. “He’s not a flashy guy either. He’s down to earth and gritty with it. He’ll tell us how it was, but he doesn’t talk about his past life.”