Last year, USC head coach Lane Kiffin speculated that there were only 10 or 15 men in the world like redshirt junior defensive end Nick Perry, in terms of his combination of size, speed and pure athletic ability. Kiffin said then Perry tested as an eventual top-15 pick in the NFL draft.
Last week, in complimenting Perry, Kiffin revealed that he ran a faster 40-yard dash this offseason in USC's training program -- roughly 4.6 seconds -- than the Trojans' top two running backs, Dillon Baxter and Marc Tyler. It was almost like, at the time, Kiffin wasn't sure if that was a positive or a negative for his team as a whole. Regardless, it's the truth -- and it only adds more compelling details to the story of Perry's athletic prowess.
For his part, Perry has always been confident in his abilities as a pass-rusher, even during his redshirt year in 2008 after he only became eligible to compete in mid-September. His 2011 goal, he firmly states, is to exceed 15 sacks.
He had just four last year, slowed all season by a high-ankle sprain he suffered in fall camp. In 2009, while starting just one game, he recorded eight sacks and earned all kinds of Freshman All-American honors.
And that's why, above all else, Perry's No. 1 goal this season isn't to improve his 40-yard dash time -- he thinks he can reach 4.5 -- or hit that 15-sack mark. It's simply to play in all 13 of the Trojans' games.
"I think for the most part I just need to stay healthy," Perry said Saturday after a solid performance in USC's scrimmage at the Coliseum. "The combine and all those times comes later on in my career. I'm just trying to focus on staying healthy and getting better every day."
Perry talks about not thinking about getting hurt, about preemptive rehab exercises, about plain-old staying ready to play. Because he realizes how much of a difference it made last season to not feel 100 percent most of the season.
"I think it did," Perry said when asked if the ankle sprain stayed with him until December last season. "I think I came out a little too early. It kinda affected me. I favored it a little bit, but I live and I learn.
So, yes, the 40-yard dash speed helps with beating left tackles around the edge and dropping back into coverage when necessary. As does his chiseled 6-3, 250-pound frame. But the fact that he's now healthy is his most important attribute at this point -- with the end of spring practice quickly approaching and a summer of physical improvements awaiting him.
Said Perry: "I'm trying to make my way to being an All-American candidate -- that's the plan."
To do that, he has to stay...well, you know the word.