Photo credit: Jeff Vinnick
It has become one of those overused cliches in sports linguistics. Next Man Up. The ultimate rallying cry when talking about injuries and wanting to maintain hope in the face of the inevitable sports adversity.
Kent Perkins was prepared for his moment. Every professional has to be ready to flick the switch when called upon. Only the former Texas Longhorns standout and newbie to the Canadian Football League had no idea it would come as quick as it did.
Flashback to preparations for game two of a topsy-turvy 2021 campaign: the Lions had dropped their opener in Saskatchewan while also seeing starting right tackle Ryker Mathews- a prized free agent addition at a major positional need- go down with a concussion that would keep him out for the rest of the campaign. Next man up? A hulking rookie, Perkins, who had shown well in training camp but would need to get some real game action before proving he really belonged.
Perkins and the Lions put up 439 yards of total offence in his first CFL start and would grind out a 15-9 win at Calgary. The end result for Perkins: 13 starts at right tackle and a team nomination for the club’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman. Further proof to never underestimate an unknown name on a depth chart. Now preparing for year two and in no interest to give up his starting spot, Perkins reflects on last year’s events as a turning point in his life but also admits it was bittersweet at first.
“I was excited to get called up but it was also a sad and unfortunate situation for Ryker. I’m glad he’s now better,” said Perkins from his off-season home in Dallas.
“I was ready to get back on the field because I hadn’t been in the game situation for quite a while. I loved the atmosphere. You always study, prepare and watch film. All of that is done to calm the nerves and prepare for action. I had some great guys alongside me and that was also a big help.”
CFL camps are filled each year with examples like Perkins. Prospects from football hotbeds and major schools don’t necessarily always translate well to the Canadian game. In the case of Perkins, he admits defenders lining up a yard off the ball was a huge adjustment.
He also didn’t have the luxury of showing his stuff in pre-season games, those tune-ups scrapped as a result of the pandemic-shortened 2021 season. All those factors make his maiden campaign in Lions orange all that more impressive. Although he knows he can take nothing for granted as his second Kamloops voyage draws nearer, Perkins can draw on the experience he gained in 2021.
“The expectation that I have for myself is a lot higher. Now I know what to expect. With the experience of last year and going up against guys, I know their tendencies and also know the tendencies that I gave off,” said Perkins.
“Knowing what I’ve put on film and how the defences are reading me, I know it goes down to the attention to detail of how I’m doing those things. I’m confident, I’m hungry and I’m going to go in there with the mentality of being better than I was last year and continue to grow throughout the season.”
He credits vets Joel Figueroa and Sukh Chungh for helping him take that next step. Another key figure in his development was offensive line coach Kelly Bates.
“I love Coach Bates. He taught me a lot when it comes to my striking. When I played in Cincinnati, I was an outside hand striker. Kelly helped me quite a bit with my inside strike and the importance of it. I also know you have to keep your opponent guessing. It’s like a boxing match. If I throw just a right jab, my opponent will just duck. I have to mix it up. I learned a lot from coach bates when it comes to striking, flipping on my linebacker, three steps and all those technical things.”
Bates himself also had a solid review of his right tackle: “My experience with Kent has been that of a quiet, humble, hard working guy. He is very coachable and also has the ability to take the techniques we learn in practice and carry it out on the field in game situations with precision and attention to detail,” the offensive line coach explained.
Family Motivation Led To Next Step
Like many youngsters in football-mad Dallas, Perkins grew up with the game. His mother Tonya raised him and three daughters on her own, with his middle sister Tiffany becoming the first woman in the family to graduate from college.
“Her ambition, her drive was something I always looked up to,” explained Perkins.
“As for my mom, she did a great job and kept me active. She was actually the reason I started playing football. She motivated me to find something different. It was tough, I never forget my first day in junior high having to run 20 gassers (sideline to sideline and back) and for an offensive lineman, that’s not fun. I pushed through it and just fell in love with it.”
He parlayed those gassers into a solid high school career and up next was four solid seasons with the Texas Longhorns where he started 34 games and led the program to appearances in the Alamo Bowl (2013) and Texas Bowl (2014). Perkins then saw game action for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2017 and 2018 before a brief stop with the XFL’s St. Louis Battlehawks in 2020. It was playing at the Texas campus really introduced him to the big time.
“It’s really wild. So loud you can’t hear yourself think,” said Perkins of the atmosphere at Austin.
“You run out that tunnel and all you see is orange. I was blessed to be able to experience that and call myself a Longhorn. I try my best to block it out once the game starts, but can’t wait for this season and the ability to have more fans at our home games.”
For now, he will enjoy Dallas and getting as much Soul Food- something he admitted was hard to find in Vancouver last year- as he can before making the trek back up north.
“Give me some greens and sweet potatoes, then I’m happy,” he says with a chuckle.
After getting that last serving, last year’s proverbial ‘Next Man Up’ will look forward to chasing that Grey Cup dream.
“I’ve had some accomplishments that I’m proud of. Now I can’t wait to accomplish more.”