Nothing prepares a defensive back prospect for the NFL more than experience, and being a defensive back in the wild Big Sky Conference will give a DB plenty of experience — and gray hair.
Former Northern Arizona safety Ray Perryman knows all too well about pass coverages, zone defenses, and shutting down wide receivers. A two-time All-Big Sky first-team selection and four-year letterman, Perryman is hoping to take his skills and experience stopping the pass to the NFL.
"The Big Sky was a challenge as a safety because of all the passing," said the 6-foot, 204-pound Perryman. "The quarterbacks really try to exploit defensive backs. I was exposed very early on to the passing game."
With pass-happy teams like Montana and Weber State throwing the ball from spread formations, Big Sky defensive backs learn early and often how to defend against the pass. That asset will help anyone who has the physical skills to make it in the NFL.
"It helps a lot. Guys in the Big Sky see passing 60-70 percent of the time as opposed to guys coming out of the Big Ten, which is more run-oriented," said Northern Arizona cornerbacks coach Quinton Richardson. "There is something to be said about going up against 40-or-more passes a game and then to face a passing offense in practice. You see it so much that you become a coach on the field."
Perryman didn't work out at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, but he has worked out for several teams at Northern Arizona, located in Flagstaff. He has been pleased with the results, running a 4.43 40 in front of scouts on March 13.
"I was kind of nervous at the start. Playing for an NFL team would be my dream," he said. "But I felt that I did a great job. It went very well."
Nicknamed "the Hitman" by his teammates, Perryman was a natural against the run because of experience playing at linebacker and rover before moving to safety in 2000. In 1999, he led the Lumberjacks with 106 stops, over 30 more than the nearest defender.
The Lumberjacks struggled last season, going 3-8, but they made the I-AA postseason tournament in '99, losing to the eventual national champion Georgia Southern Eagles in the quarterfinals. Northern Arizona might be a I-AA school, but it's no stranger to putting players in the NFL. Perryman's former teammates — quarterback Travis Brown (Seattle Seahawks) and running back Ronney Jenkins (San Diego) — have both made it there. In fact, Jenkins was one of the Chargers' nicest surprises last year, averaging 22.9 yards per kick return, including one for a 93-yard touchdown.
Perryman listened to Jenkins when he recently came back to Flagstaff for a visit.
"He came here about three weeks ago and his main point was you have to be ready at any time," Perryman said. "You don't know when your time is going to be, so you have to be ready. He went out and ran a couple of kicks and he was there."
Perryman led Northern Arizona in tackles again in 2000 with 75, including 10 for losses. He is confident that he can make it in the NFL because of his physical and mental skills.
"I have good peripheral vision and an understanding of offenses," Perryman said. "Last year I was calling all the plays and calling the defenses in the huddle. Besides that I think I have a nose for the football."
His position coach believes he can make it to the next level.
"He'll have to take his entire game up a level," said Richardson. "He has to make a total dedication to everything. That is going to be his biggest challenge. He has the physical tools; now he needs the mental (ones)."