Joshua Perry cares about how he looks.
Although his Ohio State teammates might straggle to 5 a.m. workouts wearing sweatpants, the sophomore linebacker from Olentangy High School doesn’t want to look scruffy.
“I don’t think it takes that much to throw a shirt with a collar on, some khakis and some dress shoes,” he said.
Perry believes that if he looks good, he will feel good, even at dawn.
“I have more dress shoes than I have pairs of tennis shoes,” he said. “My dad (Jim) dresses with a little swagger to him, also. I picked that up from him. That’s just kind of my MO.”
What’s even more important to Perry than looking good in the mirror is looking good on the football field. That, he has learned, requires more effort, which he has put in and is finally paying dividends.
Perry started the season as the strong-side linebacker, but that was more by default. Ohio State lacks depth at that position, a continuing worry for coach Urban Meyer. Perry had much to prove, and through the nonconference part of the schedule, that still applied.
He hated feeling like a weak link.
“The week before Wisconsin (on Sept. 28), I just took a different type of preparation in my game,” Perry said. “I started taking things a little more seriously on and off the field. A lot of people said that I’ve got some tools that would be a shame if wasted. That kind of got in my head that I needed to play the way I can play and should be playing.”
To Perry, that meant “going out to practice like a pro, taking every rep like it could be my last out there, like it’s a game rep.”
Perry had what he said was his best performance against Purdue in Ohio State’s most recent game, on Nov. 2. He had a season-high five solo tackles despite playing with a dislocated finger that required surgery during the bye week. He said the finger — there also was a tendon problem — is not an issue, though it was wrapped in a splint.
“It feels fine,” he said.
If Perry can continue to improve, that would be a huge boost to an improving defense.
“He’s a guy that had some minor injuries that set him back a little bit,” Meyer said. “I always talk about momentum in players’ lives outside of football and in football. He’s working with incredible momentum right now.
“He’s just a leader. He’s practicing really hard. He’s taking ownership not only of the outside (strong) linebacker but of (middle) linebacker in the nickel. With Curtis Grant being dinged up right now, he’s doing a lot of (middle linebacker). I love the way he practices. I love his energy.”
Perry is a scholar-athlete, so he understands the work required to be successful in all aspects of his life. But he is fairly new to playing linebacker. He played several positions at Olentangy.
After seeing mostly special-teams duty as a freshman, a major step was needed for Perry if the Buckeyes were to live up to their potential as a defense. It took some time, but it seems to be happening.
“I feel like, as an athlete, if you don’t have that extra fire and that drive and knowing you’re not necessarily doing as well as you can, then you might not be that great of an athlete after all,” Perry said.