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Army-Navy: Record-setting Navy runner Malcolm Perry matures into senior leader

As an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Ivin Jasper has thoroughly enjoyed watching Malcolm Perry run wild on the football field.

Perry has provided three straight seasons of spectacular highlights, running his way into the Navy football record book in breakaway style.

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As a teacher and mentor, Jasper’s heart has been filled with joy about witnessing Perry’s transformation from a boy into a man.

“It’s been really neat to watch Malcolm mature. He’s grown up so much since we first met at the prep school,” Jasper said this week.

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That meeting took place at the Naval Academy Prep School when Jasper traveled to Newport, Rhode Island to spend some time and get to know his future protégé. Perry was shy, reticent and a youngster of very few words in the summer of 2015.

Fast forward five years later and Jasper marvels at the Malcolm Perry he sees on the Navy football sideline. There is Perry exhorting teammates to stop worrying about what went wrong on the previous possession and focus on improving the next. Here is Perry telling Jasper what the defense is doing and suggesting some plays that might work.

“Seeing how far Malcolm has come, both as a player and a person, has been very rewarding for me personally,” Jasper said. “Malcolm is so much more commanding on the sideline. He’s provided a strong leadership presence and really taken control of the offense. Malcolm has gone from a kid who didn’t say much to one that speaks up and is assertive.”

Watching from the stands at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Bonny Perry has seen the dramatic evolution as well.

“I see Malcom on the sideline hyping people up and I almost can’t believe it. He has never been like that before,” Bonny Perry said of her youngest son. “I remember a game this season when Malcolm scored a touchdown then flipped the ball to the referee. He’s never done anything like that before. I agree with Coach Jasper, Malcolm has grown and changed a lot.”

Malcolm Perry has always been a fierce competitor who tried to lead by example, but motivating teammates verbally was never his style.

“Malcolm has been playing football since the age of 8 and all his coaches have wanted him to be more vocal, and he just wouldn’t do it,” Bonny said. “Malcolm knew the other kids weren’t as motivated, weren’t as serious as he was. Malcolm knew he couldn’t instill those traits with words, so he just tried to show the way.”

Bonny Perry has a theory for why her heretofore shy, soft-spoken son is suddenly so outgoing.

“This year’s team, it’s so obvious they love each other. They’re all on the same page, all have the same goal. Malcolm is totally comfortable with is classmates and that is why he doesn’t have a problem with speaking up,” she said. “You can tell there is a great confidence there, both personally and with the whole team.”

Army Brat

Malcolm Xiomar Perry is the youngest of six children born to parents who were both career United States Army. Malcolm Maurice Perry met his future wife because they both worked in logistics at Fort Campbell, which straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

Maurice Perry worked in refueling operations for 21 years, while Bonny handled repair parts and supply for 19 years. They were both deployed during the Gulf War and have lived in other locales, evidenced by the fact two children were born in North Carolina and one in Germany.

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Malcolm X. Perry grew up in Clarksville, which is the town where the Tennessee side of Fort Campbell sits. He became a standout quarterback at Kenwood High, where he was a two-time All-State selection and was twice named Most Valuable Player in Montgomery County.

Perry was walking down the hall one day when the Kenwood head coach asked if he would be interested in attending one of the military academies, stating that “Air Force and Navy are looking at you.” Having career service personnel as parents and growing up in the shadow of a U.S. Army base, Perry was very receptive to the idea.

“I was raised around the military and I think it made a tremendous impact. I remember seeing helicopters flying over my house and tanks riding around. It was just cool to me as a kid,” Perry said. “I was very comfortable around the military and knew first-hand what it could do for your future. I saw some of the cool things you can do in the military and the way you could provide for your family.”

Perry visited both the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and the Naval Academy in Annapolis, choosing the latter because he felt more comfortable with the players and coaches. After playing slotback at the prep school, Perry practiced as a quarterback as a plebe at the academy.

Perry will forever be part of Navy football folklore because of the bizarre circumstances of his collegiate debut. Starting quarterback Tago Smith suffered a season-ending injury during the 2016 opener against Fordham and backup Will Worth took over.

Unbeknownst to anyone else in attendance at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium that day, third string quarterback Zach Abey had been suspended due to a violation of team rules. Jasper sent word down from the press box for a member of the equipment staff to “find Malcolm” and get him suited up.

Perry marched into the stadium that early September day along with the Brigade of Midshipmen and was sitting in the stands in his dress whites. He wound up getting into the game and directing a touchdown drive, making national news in the process.

Perry, who will never forget the equipment intern wading into the stands looking for the freshman quarterback. “I heard him calling my name and I was like ‘Oh my God, what did I do? Am I in some sort of trouble?’ It was a pretty amazing way to get my first college playing experience,” he admitted.

Back-and-Forth

Perry wound up playing in three games as a plebe, two at quarterback and one at slot. He switched full-time to slotback as a sophomore and had a breakout season, rushing for 1,182 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound speedster averaged an astounding 8.6 yards per carry in 2017.

Navy’s coaching staff deployed Perry as a secret weapon in two games that year, starting him at quarterback against SMU and Army. Operating out of shotgun set and running behind a zone blocking scheme, Perry was a real revelation – rushing for 282 yards and four touchdowns against SMU and 250 yards and a score versus Army.

Perry’s junior campaign was not nearly as smooth. He opened the season as the starting quarterback and lasted five games leading an offense that just did not look right. Following a devastating 35-7 loss to service academy rival Air Force, head coach Ken Niumatalolo switched Perry back to slotback.

Perry was asked last week what it was like to practice as both a quarterback and slotback during his sophomore and junior seasons.

“Bouncing back-and-forth wasn’t as much a problem as people think. I was just happy the coaches were trying to put me in the best position to make an impact,” he said. “Looking back, I enjoyed moving between quarterback and slotback. It was a learning process and a lot of fun. I got a lot of game experience my sophomore year by playing slot and that eventually helped me out when I moved to quarterback.”

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Abey and fellow senior Garret Lewis did not fare much better while alternating as the starting quarterback a year ago and Navy finished with a 3-10 record, its worst since going 2-10 in 2002. In hindsight, Niumatalolo regretted not sticking with Perry as the quarterback.

This past offseason, Niumatalolo apologized to Perry and made it clear he would remain the starting quarterback no matter how the 2019 season transpired. That vote of confidence meant the world to Perry and set the stage for the fantastic senior season he is currently enjoying.

“Moving back-and-forth definitely didn’t allow me to be the best I could be at one of those two positions,” Perry acknowledged. “Having my mindset on one position and not having to practice at both made a difference. Dedicating my full effort into being a quarterback was a big step – not just with the physical work, but the mental work as well.”

Indeed, Perry has developed into a more complete quarterback because he spent the entire offseason working diligently to improve as a passer. He studied film and the playbook to gain a better understanding of the triple-option and how to read defensive alignments.

Niumatalolo’s decision to tailor the offense to suit Perry’s strengths has helped, but the biggest difference between 2018 and 2019 is the player’s overall confidence level to execute all aspects of being an option quarterback.

“I’m so grateful we handed the keys to the offense to Malcolm. He took them and literally ran with them,” Niumatalolo said. “With the guidance and tutelage of Coach Jasper, Malcolm has groomed himself into becoming one of the best quarterbacks that’s ever come through here.”

Monstrous Senior Season

Perry has been the catalyst of an offense that leads the nation in rushing average (360.8 yards per game) and ranks ninth in scoring (39.3 points). He is only the fifth quarterback in Navy history to rush and pass for more than 1,000 yards in a single season.

Perry has accounted for 2,527 yards and 25 touchdowns from scrimmage – rushing for 1,500 and 18 scores, while passing for another 1,027 and 6. He is almost assured of surpassing Worth (2,595 in 2016) as the single-season school record-holder in that category.

Perry also needs 88 yards to break the single-season school record for rushing (1,587 yards), which was set way back in 1983 by legendary tailback Napoleon McCallum.

Perry currently ranks third all-time at Navy with 3,842 career rushing yards, trailing record-setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds (4,559, 2012-2015) and McCallum (4,179, 1981-85).

“Coming here and hearing about all the legends of Navy football like Joe Bellino, Roger Staubach, Napoleon McCallum and Keenan Reynolds… to be put in the same conversation with any of them is a tremendous honor and very humbling,” Perry said.

Perry has already set one single-season school record with nine games of 100 rushing yards or more. Jasper called the numbers “astounding” and said the key has been Perry staying healthy for an entire season for the first time in his career.

Niumatalolo gives Perry enormous credit for the fact Navy has gone from 3-10 to 9-2.

“What I’ve been most impressed is the way Malcolm has led our team – with quiet confidence and tremendous work ethic,” Niumatalolo said. “When the best player on the team never lets up, it forces everyone else to practice and play at a higher level.”

About the only item missing from Perry’s impressive resume is a victory over archrival Army. He was dressed and stood on the sidelines as a plebe when the Black Knights snapped the historic 14-game winning series the Midshipmen had in the series.

Perry started at quarterback in 2017 when Navy lost a 14-13 heartbreaker then led the team in rushing from the slotback position in an equally crushing 17-10 defeat in 2018.

“I really can’t put into words how huge that would be for the seniors, the entire football team and the Naval Academy as a whole,” Perry said of ending a three-game losing streak to Army. “It could change the way I think about my entire career here at the Naval Academy. Obviously, there’s a bitter taste in my mouth from losing the last three. What’s happened in the past would make a win this year even sweeter.”

Perry has received Marine Corps Ground as a service assignment and is looking forward to beginning basic training at the base in Quantico, Virginia. Perry participated in Camp Leatherneck this past summer in order to get a better feel for the Marine Corps and thoroughly enjoyed that week-long training exercise.

“Marine Corps is something I’ve been thinking about since I got to prep school. The first person I had any interaction with was Gunnery Sergeant (Kevin) Davis. He was screaming and yelling at everybody. Wore a really clean uniform, really smooth guy, really put together,” Perry said. “Marine Corps has stuck in my mind ever since that day. I get along real well with the type of people that are generally in that branch of the service. I just felt it was the best fit for me.”

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