It was late-February 2016, and prospect-after-prospect rotated through the media room set-up inside Lucas Oil Stadium for the NFL Combine. It was a big year for the Buckeyes who were just a year removed from winning the College Football Playoff and just a few months away from setting draft records.
Early in the event, top Ohio State prospect Joey Bosa would step up to the podium in front of dozens of reports and cameras, and utter a very Spicoli-like “Sup?” as he addressed the crowd. Big names get big platforms, it’s just how it works.
But while Bosa and Ezekiel Elliott had full-stage pressers, there were round tables — that sat only eight — in the back of the room set up for prospects that were either lesser known, or with a perceived lower draft stock.
As I made my plan for Friday of the event, the media was finally getting a chance to talk to linebackers, which included Buckeye Joshua Perry. I waited for the overhead announcement for where Perry would be stationed, a table in the back, and bee-lined my way through the hoards of reporters making their way to the podiums.
I snagged the seat next to Perry — in what was maybe my most impressive athletic endeavor ever — and was immediately in awe.
Aside from joining a long list of impressive linebackers out of Ohio State, Perry was just as focused on the work he was doing on the field as he was with the work he did off of it. He was aware that after years of scandals, the NFL and teams were looking for players who would stay out of trouble, and contribute positively to their respective communities, and Perry was a guy they wouldn’t need to worry about.
He noted, “The NFL is looking for character guys in just some of the things going on there’s a lot of scrutiny on players in the league and things they get into. Some of those missteps are blown up in the media so everybody wants to sign a character guy but obviously you’re there to play football and especially once you go to the league that’s your business and that’s how you eat.”
Even before Perry was drafted in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the Chargers, he had already chosen a cause to which to devote his time. Autism Awareness was (and is still) important to the Buckeye, whose brother Jahred has Asperger’s syndrome and has embraced being an advocate for others.
In a pre-draft interview with Jeanna Thomas of SB Nation, Perry discussed he and his brother’s work in the community.
“Any way I can use my platform to help him, but also other people who have a similar journey to him, is important to me,” Joshua said. “Even today, he was speaking at Columbus State Community College about being a student with disabilities and just kind of some of his struggles and how he overcomes them, and I think it’s just really interesting getting to know people within that community, and I’m really proud of him and everything that he does, so just anything to help.”
Perry was actively involved with Autism Speaks for years, donating money for each tackle he made during his rookie season, and wearing custom kicks for the #MyCauseMyCleats campaign. He’s taken his community activism up a notch since then, starting his own charity, the Joshua Perry Family Foundation in 2018.
During the offseason, Perry’s latest endeavor was hosting a free football camp just north of Columbus at his high school alma matter. Not only did he and his sponsors host 200 campers for FREE, but they also worked to collect school supplies for the upcoming year and register voters.
Recap of the first annual @joshuaperryff youth football camp! It was a successful day instructing 200 campers, while collecting school supply donations and registering voters! Thanks to all of our sponsors as well! pic.twitter.com/vr9Y0UWywG— Joshua Perry Family Foundation (@JoshuaPerryFF) June 25, 2018
Perry has always been about inclusion, and among the 200 kids who showed up to participate in his camp, there were several girls who took the field.
We had a number of female campers today and we loved it! We enjoy the opportunity to include players of all races, genders, orientations and abilities at our camps! https://t.co/rNJhAvlPL1— Joshua E Perry (@RIP_JEP) June 22, 2018
Yoooo she had a cannon actually. And natural hands https://t.co/KJaAFKWYXO— Joshua E Perry (@RIP_JEP) June 22, 2018
Joshua announced his retirement from the NFL and football altogether on Monday, after suffering his sixth diagnosed concussion. With such a profound commitment to the work that he does off of the field, keeping his brain healthy and avoiding additional risk is certainly an understandable reason to call it a career.
He may not have been a consistent contributor at the next level, like his was at Ohio State, but he has a lot to be proud of in what he brought to special teams, the locker room, and the community.
In his retirement announcement, he mentioned that he planned on spending more time in Columbus and working on getting his real estate license. Additionally, he’s looking forward to having even more time to devote to working in his community.
And when he’s not busy saving the world, it looks like he’s got an open invitation at Ohio State to help on the recruiting trail.
You ready to come work in recruiting? ♂️— Mark Pantoni (@markpantoni) July 30, 2018
We are all better off with Joshua Perry being a part of Buckeye Nation, and even if we won’t get to watch him punish offenses on the field, we’ll still get to be a part of his special post-football journey.