University of Miami

Butkus Award finalist Denzel Perryman glad he stayed with Miami Hurricanes for senior year

UM’s Denzel Perryman runs the ball after a fourth-quarter interception as Duke quarterback Anthony Boone tries to tackle him on Sept. 27.
UM’s Denzel Perryman runs the ball after a fourth-quarter interception as Duke quarterback Anthony Boone tries to tackle him on Sept. 27. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Denzel Perryman’s daughter, Ella Grace, turned 1 this month. Her enthusiasm for seeing him every night when he returns to his apartment after classes and practice and lifting and meetings makes him realize how wise it was to return to the University of Miami for his senior season.

“She’s jumping up in the crib and saying ‘Dada!’” Perryman said this week. “It puts a lot of things in perspective. That’s been my motivation day in and day out. I’ve got a daughter to feed and a family to take care of.”

His competitors aren’t nearly as excited to see him.

While the Hurricanes were imploding in the cold, Virginia air on Saturday at Charlottesville, Perryman was so busy dominating the competition that it was hard to tell if he noticed the collapse.

“It’s a shame we didn’t have everybody play every snap the way he played it,” UM defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said of Perryman, who had 15 tackles to bring his total to 96 this season. “I think it speaks to the rest of the team to know that you’re never done improving.”

If only there were 11 Denzel Perrymans.

Perryman, who grew up in Overtown and starred at Coral Gables High, was one of five players throughout the country named on Monday as a finalist for the Butkus Award. The Butkus goes to the top linebacker in college football and has only been won by a Miami player once — Dan Morgan in 2000.

That year, Morgan became the first player in college football history to win the Butkus, Nagurski (defensive player of year) and Bednarik Award (top defensive player) in the same season.

“Really, I’m just trying to focus on the season and finish out strong,” Perryman said. “Hopefully I can get up there and win that award. It would mean a lot. I could have my face and my picture next to Dan Morgan’s upstairs.”

Perryman’s Butkus competitors are: Erick Kendricks of UCLA, Hau’oli Kikaha of Washington, Jake Ryan of Michigan and Jaylon Smith of Notre Dame. “All great guys,” Perryman said.

The Hurricanes (6-5, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) meet Pittsburgh (5-6, 3-4) in the final regular-season game at 7p.m. Saturday at Sun Life Stadium. ACC rushing leader James Conner (1,600 yards, 22 touchdowns), Perryman’s latest challenge, is questionable because of a hip injury.

“It’s going to be emotional,” he said of his last home game. “It flew by fast.”

No matter how much the Canes have underwhelmed this season, Perryman — expected to be a high-round pick in the NFL Draft — will leave UM satisfied that he mastered his role.

Perryman now has 337 tackles, passing Pro Football Hall of Famer Ted “the Mad Stork” Hendricks’ 327 (from 1966-68) to take over 10th place in all-time UM stops.

This season, he also has seven tackles for loss, two sacks, an interception, four pass breakups and three forced fumbles. Not bad for a guy who admits he’s “5-11 on a good day.”

“My play has gotten a lot better,” he said.

His father, Desmond Perryman, coached Denzel and his three brothers in Pop Warner — as well as former UM stars Frank Gore and Roscoe Parrish.

But what Desmond is most proud of, he said Monday night, is that his son will earn his degree in sociology.

“He actually went to college for an education,” the elder Perryman said. “The order would be education and then football. That was my wish for him playing football, just to be able to further his education. But he’s been a great player on the field, too.

“The entire team has gotten better. Everybody up front has allowed Denzel to do better.”

The Hurricanes defense, despite being criticized this season, is ranked 15th nationally in total defense, 20th in passing yards allowed, 30th in rushing defense and ninth in fumbles recovered.

“We still have guys who have the ability to lead,” Perryman said. “The stage isn’t too big for them. When I leave, when the seniors leave, those guys are going to step up.”

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