When Cassie-Raye Stuart was first introduced to Denzel Perryman during the summer of 2012 by her manager at a sports bar in Coconut Grove, sparks didn’t fly immediately between her and the Miami Hurricanes linebacker.
“I’m not from here and I didn’t go to school at UM so I didn’t know anything about him and I didn’t care,” said Stuart, a former field hockey player from Rhode Island who came to South Florida to run track at FIU. “When you work at a sports bar you get a lot people asking for your phone number, and at first I didn’t want a lot to do with him.”
But Perryman’s persistence paid off. The two spoke on the phone for weeks, and eventually began dating. Last week, the young couple welcomed their first child — Ella Grace Perryman, who weighed in at 7 pounds, 13 ounces and who mom says “looks just like her daddy.”
“I can’t even explain the feeling,” said Perryman, a junior who turns 21 on Dec. 5. “It’ s just one of those feelings inside where you are like: ‘Wow, this is really my kid. I created this.’ ”
The Hurricanes (7-3, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) will play their final home game of the season at noon Saturday against Virginia (2-8, 0-6) and fans will get a chance to say good-bye to 27 seniors, many of whom endured a 28-month NCAA probe and self-imposed bowl bans each of the past two seasons.
It could also be Perryman’s final home game. The Hurricanes’ leading tackler said Tuesday he won’t give serious thought to leaving early for the NFL Draft until the season is over. But the opportunity to take care of his young family likely will factor into his decision, those close to him say.
SCOUTS WEIGH IN
NFLDraftScout.com projects Perryman (6-0, 240) as a third-round pick in April’s NFL Draft and ranks him as the 10th-best available outside linebacker. Tony Pauline, a longtime NFL draft analyst and publisher of Draftinsider.net, has said Perryman has elements of former Hurricanes great Ray Lewis in his game, but adds: “The thing with him is going to be size, speed.”
Although he has racked up a career-high 91 tackles this season (the next-closest Hurricane is linebacker Jimmy Gaines with 64), Perryman said Tuesday he has made his share of mistakes on a Hurricanes defense that has given up a combined 131 points and 1,609 yards in three straight losses.
“To be honest with you I don’t have perfect games either,” he said Tuesday. “I probably don’t make enough plays. There are still things I need to focus on like run fits. This past game [against Duke] there were times I wasn’t in my gap and it caused big runs.”
UM coach Al Golden said Tuesday all he asks of his underclassman who might declare early for the draft is that “they go through the entire process of getting their evaluation.” He also was very complimentary of the growth he has seen from Perryman, who has only 1.5 sacks, four tackles for loss and one forced fumble in 2013.
“He’s really learned how to practice at a higher level,” Golden said. “If he’s a stick shift, he’s in third right now. He’s got a whole other gear to go to in terms of continuing to make interceptions [one career INT], caused fumbles all those explosive plays that really personify what we’re looking for from that position.”
Former UM linebacker Sean Spence, who took Perryman under his wing the one season they played together in 2011, exchanges text messages with Perryman frequently and has been dubbed one of a handful of godfathers to Ella. Spence, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, said he has been impressed watching Perryman this season and is looking forward to seeing him when UM closes out the regular season at Pittsburgh the day after Thanksgiving.
“I think the way he tackles, the way he plays, his size, he’s more than ready [to go pro],” Spence said. “In the end it’s going to be a personal decision between him and his family.”
‘A GREAT FATHER’
Stuart, 22, said whatever decision Perryman reaches she will support it. Right now, though, all he’s worried about is finishing this season strong, helping his teammates turn things around and being a good father, she said.
Stuart said during her pregnancy she would often catch Perryman reading the book What to Expect When You’re Expecting on her phone and that Perryman would call and send her text messages all day to see how she’s feeling. Since Ella was born he has called her even more and is handling all of his daddy duties from changing diapers to getting up throughout the night to feed his daughter.
Although she would like to take Ella to Saturday’s home finale, Stuart said Perryman will not let her because Ella hasn’t had her first set of vaccines.
“The coolest thing has been watching him go from being OK with the news to being really excited about it,” Stuart said. “He gets home every day from school and practice at 6. The first thing he does is take her from me and hold her. He’s not a mushy guy, but he’s very sweet and a great father.”