CHICAGO — Bryant Perry’s big dreams grew from humble beginnings.
“Not having a football field [at the school], we knew what we were up against but not making excuses,” Perry said.
Perry and his teammates were up against far more than just traveling for their home games at Harper High School in Englewood.
“Football and my high school coach kept me alive,” Perry said.
Football, no matter where he got to play it, provided Perry a safe haven.
Hall of Fame coach Maris Carroll became a father figure and helped Perry navigate his way around the field and the city’s violence.
“I think football kept that away from him because lot of guys he grew up with got killed,” Carroll said. “He lives literally three blocks away and it’s like going through a war zone.”
“It’s easy to become a product of that environment which is not a good one,” Perry said. “It made me tougher.”
Perry focused on football, stayed out of trouble and helped the Cardinals reach the city championship game as a senior.
But after graduating in 2012, fear of the unknown struck like a blindside hit.
“The only thing you hear in that neighborhood is the real world is going to hit you and you either have to go to college or get a job,” he said.
Perry became depressed. He couldn’t even watch football on TV.
Finally, three years later, Mesabi Range Junior College in Minnesota took a chance on him.
Perry made All Conference, and after two seasons he transferred to St. Francis in Joliet.
Then, Perry came to a turning point. Last summer he went one-on-one with Antonio Brown at the wide receiver’s football camp.
“He was just like ‘I love your attitude, keep making everybody better around you,'” Perry said of Brown’s advice. “He posted on his [Instagram] page ‘Let’s Dance’, so he probably thought I was tough at the camp. That gave me a spark going into St. Francis season.”
His “AB” moment gave him the courage to declare for the NFL draft after just one year at St. Francis.
But his main motivation came closer to home.
Perry had watched his grandparents, aunt and uncle all die from illness.
Then on Christmas Day, his mother Amy, a diabetic, checked into the hospital when her blood sugar spiked too high.
“That’s when I knew I had to make a decision,” Bryant said of his choice to turn pro. “It’s just me, my mom and sister left. If something happened to her, who will take care of my sister?”
“I would tell him ‘I’m fine.’ Every time I get sick he gets nervous,” Amy said. “’I’ll be fine, I just want you to finish school.’ But he’s a grown man and has to make his own decisions.”
His mind made up, Perry hit another road block: without an agent, he missed the deadline to apply for the NFL draft.
The fallback was July’s supplemental draft.
“Man, just give me a shot. That’s it,” Perry said of his dream. “NFL, CFL just give me a shot that’s it.”
Perry went undrafted, but he’s remained undeterred.
He takes two buses and two trains one way to work out in the West Loop four times a week. He’s stayed in touch with NFL scouts, and will attend a Canadian Football League tryout in Tinley Park at the end of the month.
“A lot of people tell you you’re living that dream, but it is a dream, and if you don’t dream it how you going to succeed,” Carroll said.
Perry won’t stop working toward that dream.
In many ways, the hardest part, was just making it here, searching for the next football field to call home.
“Everything Bryant has gone through, he is very brave,” Amy Perry said. “Determination sums it all up.”