Hurricanes linebacker Denzel Perryman was tying his cleats Saturday as he walked outside to Greentree Field. He gazed at the open green palette on which he mastered his craft the past three years, looked around at his guys, and said he realized right then, I made the best decision.
The first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference linebacker, a third-round NFL Draft projection had he chosen to leave early, instead decided to return for his senior year and get his degree in hopes of giving his fiancée and baby daughter a more secure future.
Sunday, his fiancée Cassie Stuart and their nearly 4-month-old daughter Ella Grace came to UMs second spring practice to watch their favorite Miami Hurricane.
He needed to get his degree, Stuart said. Im happy he made that decision.
UM coach Al Golden, defensive coordinator Mark DOnofrio and Perrymans teammates were no doubt ecstatic when Perryman announced his decision.
How much will it help the program having him back?
A ton, DOnofrio said.
A lot, said linebacker/rush end Tyriq McCord, who compared Perrymans effect on UM to LeBron James effect on the Miami Heat. Hes very vocal. When he comes out on the field his presence is known. He changes the game just by being there. He makes everybody else better around him.
Perryman, who was already a chiseled, physical specimen last season, is bulging with muscles these days and has built himself up into a 6-0, 245-pounder.
It used to be that coaches played him at weak-side when he was 208 pounds because they wanted to protect him, said Golden, but his size has warranted a move to middle linebacker. In the middle, Golden said, its hard to say this, but his tackling production will probably go up even more. Hell be able to venture sideline to sideline.
He wont be in the boundary as much in the pass game. Hell be in the middle of the field and hopefully be the recipient of some tipped balls. Hes got great vision and breaks.
Last year Perryman started all 13 games on the outside and led the team with 108 tackles, including five for losses and 1 ½ sacks. He had one forced fumble.
Former Hurricane star linebacker Jonathan Vilma, an unrestricted free agent who last played with the New Orleans Saints, came to practice Sunday and lauded Perrymans decision.
Hes a phenomenal talent big, strong and fast, said Vilma, who also played four years in college. Its great for the younger guys to see a talent like Denzel stay for his senior year so they understand that its not just about how fast you can get to the NFL. Its about everything being a better student, better individual and better player.
Perryman said he wants to improve his pass coverage and taking on linemen, and that he and defensive end Anthony Chickillo, who also chose to return, are convinced this year will be special.
Our attitudes coming back were like, This is the year. Theres no room for errors, Perryman said. Some of the young guys feel the same way.
Perryman became a father in November and knows hes playing for more than himself. He said he talked to his UM adviser on Friday and by altering his schedule a bit he can earn his degree in criminal justice in December.
His fiancée, who works two nights a week as a bartender while Perryman is at home with Ella, also plans to eventually finish her college career for a criminal justice degree. She took off from FIU to take care of the baby.
He loves her so much, she said of Perryman, adding that it took a while to figure out how to make it work smoothly with Denzels hectic schedule, but we figured it out.
• Perryman will soon be joined as a father by UM quarterback Ryan Williams, whose wife, Deanna, said Sunday that they are expecting their first baby, a boy, on Aug. 5.