All Perry Orth ever wanted was a chance.
The former walk-on will get his last crack at South Carolina’s starting quarterback job when fall camp opens next month. His spring was off to a good start before a broken collarbone shut him down in March.
“Brandon and Perry had distanced themselves coming out of Saturday because of Perry’s command and Brandon’s ability,” Muschamp said, during the first stop on his offseason speaking tour.
Just more than a month from the start of fall camp, no decisions have been made and that’s remained so since Muschamp and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper met with Orth and his family in the hospital.
“Both of them looked at me in the eye and said, ‘None of this is going to change anything about Perry’s status,’” his father, Rusty, said during an interview with SEC Country.
“‘Perry proved to us already that he can play. He is going to have every opportunity, regardless.’”
That was music to the ears of a guy who didn’t have a Division I scholarship offer coming out of Florida’s Ponte Vedra High School, which was in its fifth year of existence when Perry, a senior, guided the football team to a district title.
Unfortunately, his options were limited to Division II offers and a preferred walk-on spot at South Carolina.
As a junior, Orth threw for 1,800 yards and set a school record with 17 touchdown passes and picked up second-team all-district and all-conference honors. With the help of his father, a former wide receiver at West Virginia, Orth began marketing himself to college recruiters.
“After his junior year, we sent his film to South Carolina, that was one of the schools,” Rusty said. “Actually, we sent his film to, probably, 50 different schools.”
Thanks, but no thanks
Most schools weren’t interested in a 6-foot quarterback with average athleticism and less than stellar statistics.
Florida State was one of the first to respond. Perry scored a junior day invite and later returned for camp, but that was about the extent of the contact. That June, Sean Maguire committed to the Seminoles’ 2012 class, two months before 5-star Jameis Winston was on board as their second quarterback commitment.
Wake Forest, Florida Atlantic and Florida International all invited Perry to visit, but none were willing to offer a full-ride.
South Carolina didn’t respond after his first film submission, though he managed to catch the Gamecocks’ interest with his second attempt. Through the help of an office administrator, former assistant Steve Spurrier Jr. reached out and invited him to junior day.
A few months later, Perry was on campus, throwing for coach Steve Spurrier, but his shot at a scholarship was dashed when Brendan Nosovitch committed in July. However, former offensive coordinator/quarterback coach G.A. Mangus included Perry on his list of 30 preferred walk-on candidates.
Rusty got the word when he was watching Perry play baseball during his senior year.
“I was so fired up, excited, it was like a new life. This is awesome.,” Rusty said. “I told Perry and he was just running around excited, because he knew.
“He said, ‘All I need is a chance.’”
All in the family
Four years later, Perry isn’t the only Orth son vying for a starting quarterback job. His younger brother, Evan, a redshirt freshman at South Alabama, is competing for the Jaguars’ No. 1 spot.
“They’re different, because Perry is in a different place than Evan is. They both have unique situations and I don’t really give them much advice about anything, except leadership,” Rusty said.
“The biggest thing I’ve emphasized with these guys … basically, the phrase that I use with them is eventually nobody is going to care how many records you set or how many games you’ve won. They’re going to remember if you’re a jerk. How did you make them feel? And were you a good team-player?
“Those are the things that we have emphasized in all of their lives. Lead by example — you don’t have to be a rah-rah, jump up and get in people’s face. Lead by example — be positive and build people up, and be a leader from that standpoint. Then prepare as hard as you can.”
That’s the guy Mike Loyd got to know when he was the head coach at Ponte Vedra, where Perry went to school for his junior and senior years of high school.
“I’ve had 14 Division I starting quarterbacks at Tennessee, Oklahoma and some other places. Perry (Orth) and Garrick McGee are probably the two hardest working kids, mentally and physically, that I’ve ever coached, and I’ve coached two kids that have won Super Bowls and I played with two Super Bowl MVPs,” Loyd said.
“Perry, his dream was to play at South Carolina and to become a starter and start games in the SEC as a walk-on is a great accomplishment in itself.”
The next level
After a semester at a community college in Jacksonville, Perry joined the South Carolina football team as a preferred walk-on in January of 2013. Since then, he’s worked his way up the depth chart and waited his turn behind a number of scholarship quarterbacks, including Connor Shaw, Dylan Thompson and Connor Mitch.
Perry got his first crack at meaningful snaps last season when Mitch went down with an injury in the season opener against North Carolina. He played in each of the next 11 games, completing 143-of-261 passes for 1,929 yards with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed 53 times for 138 yards and two scores.
Now, he’s competing with sophomore Lorenzo Nunez and freshmen Jake Bentley and Brandon McIlwain for the right to start in South Carolina’s 2016 opener at Vanderbilt.
“Obviously, (Perry) wants to start. He wants to win the starting job. He wants to lead South Carolina to being a contender, to notch up a bunch of wins and bring all the pride back to the Gamecock country as he can,” Rusty said.
Perry exited spring practice listed as a co-starter alongside McIlwain. According to Rusty, his son’s “clicked” with the freshman who enrolled in January.
“He’s spent a considerable amount of time working with (McIlwain), talking with him, teaching him how to read defenses and doing those types of things, which at the end of the day falls back on … they’re not going to remember any records that you had,” Rusty said. “They’re going to remember what kind of person you are. Are you a quality person? Are you a good teammate?”
Loyd certainly believes so, as do his high school aged son and daughter, both of whom wear the No. 4, because that was Perry’s number.
“That speaks volumes to Perry as a person,” Loyd said. “That’s more important, but he’s always going to be special in my eyes and my family’s eyes. I’m one of his biggest fans.”
Apparently, it’s hard not to be a fan.
“He’s a natural leader. Kids gravitate towards him. His personality — it’s impossible not to like (and) not to respect him. He’s just a fun kid to be around,” Loyd said.