The Southern Rudy? Walk-on punter Ty Perine defines Alabama's 'next man up' philosophy
Of the close to 35,000 underclassmen wandering around the University of Alabama campus on any given day, there are probably about 16,000 young men who would literally give a lung — or, this week, an ankle — for a shot to play for the Crimson Tide.
Of those 16,000, solidly 15,850 of them wouldn’t have a chance in Auburn of ever touching one single blade of Bryant-Denny Stadium grass on a fall Saturday wearing the Crimson and White.
And of the remaining 150, there are 105 highly prized young men on the Alabama football roster.
The other 45? Walk-ons. Tackling dummies. Think of “Rudy,” only without a solitary prayer of running out of that tunnel.
But just like every other certainty in the world, there is always the exception.
Meet Ty Perine, Alabama’s “Rudy.”
Until last weekend’s game against Tennessee, Perine was an even rarer form of unknown walk-on than was Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger at Notre Dame. A freshman from Prattville, Perine was and is a punter.
Like most every position, Alabama entered the 2019 season stacked at punter. Freshman Will Reichard began the season as the Tide’s punter and kicker, but sophomore Skyler DeLong took over after Reichard injured his leg against South Carolina. Perine walked on to the Crimson Tide, basically, to boot the rock around on the scout team and hope his leg someday came in handy.
That someday ended up being the Third Saturday in October — when Perine ceased being the kid sitting beside your nephew in freshman English class and suddenly became the most talked-about player not named Tua Tagovailoa.
DeLong was struggling — as his sole punt against South Carolina went 14 yards, then he averaged 37, 30 and 29.5 yards per punt against Southern Miss, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. That inefficiency made coach Nick Saban turn to back Reichard, until the freshman reaggravated his hip flexor injury before he could even punt against the Volunteers.
Wearing No. 99, Perine had actually dressed against Ole Miss — and turned heads with a booming leg during pregame warmups. Dressed again against the Vols, and with Reichard suddenly gimping around again, it was time for No. 99 to step into a spotlight he probably never thought he would see.
And wow did he not disappoint.
Perine’s 1st punt was a 42-yarder with enough hang time that the Volunteers’ returner had to retreat and signal for a fair catch. But it was the 2nd kick that truly made memories.
That boot, a 51-yard spiral that was fielded by Marquez Callaway and returned 22 yards … until Perine squared up and drilled Callaway in the open field.
“He did a fantastic job,” tight end Miller Forristall said of Perine. “The crowd loved it. And so did we.”
.@tylan_perine with maybe the play of the game for Alabama.
He kicks. Then he comes for you. pic.twitter.com/CANcFpL9AU
— Alabama Crimson Tide | AL.com (@aldotcomTide) October 20, 2019
That could actually be an understatement. Perine was mobbed by Crimson Tide special teams players and then again once he reached the sideline, players reacting so genuinely about the punt/open-field tackle combination from the freshman that it brought the already-jacked-up crowd to their feet one more time.
“It’s exciting,” said wide receiver Henry Ruggs, who was credited with an assist on the Perine tackle. “Any guy on the team, whenever they get an opportunity, you want them to make the best of it. … For him to go and get two big kicks (against Tennessee) and for him to make that tackle, that was big.”
Ruggs wasn’t alone with the praise for Perine’s tackling skill.
Alabama linebacker Terrell Lewis bragged about Perine’s big open-field hit Monday like he made it himself. Perine didn’t dive at Callaway’s ankles, or pretend to try and make a tackle like so many punters do. Alabama’s freshman met Tennessee’s senior chest-to-facemask and stopped him in his tracks.
“He came with bad intentions,” Lewis said.
And Forristall had an extra reason to praise Perine’s stop.
“Actually, he made the tackle, and I was supposed to be there,” Forristall said. “I covered the wrong way.”
His 2 punts traveled an average of 46.5 yards. The 51-yarder is the longest this season for Alabama. In comparison, DeLong had averaged just 29.6 yards per punt over the previous 4 games.
“I saw him punt 2 punts and he punted them really, really well,” coach Nick Saban said of Perine. “I mean really well. So we’re happy to see that. He’s a guy that is just a walk-on that has gotten better throughout the course of the year and we thought that it was time for him to get an opportunity based on the struggles we have had at that position. I thought he responded really well.”
And with Tagovailoa out for at least this week’s Arkansas game with a high-ankle sprain that required surgery, field position — an afterthought for a team that was racking up yardage like CBS takes commercial breaks — could actually become rather important.
Alabama’s was ranked 129th in net punting before the Tennessee game. Now it could be the difference between winning and losing a close game.
If Perine’s right leg didn’t make enough of an impact to earn him the starting spot the rest of the season, one would certainly think his desire to actually play football on top of it would.
Someone get this kid a scholarship.