Firebirds’ Perry is Male Student-Athlete of the Year

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Hunter Perry’s study habits have served him well in the classroom at Southern Nash High but they also came in handy for the Firebirds football team last fall.

By tirelessly learning the nuances of a new position, Perry made the switch from defensive end to middle linebacker on the Southern Nash defense, a move that paid major dividends. Perry helped the Firebirds win their second straight 3-A Big East Conference title and reach the third round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs as he was named Big East and Wilson Times Defensive Player of the Year.

Perry’s athletic prowess, which included playing basketball and golf for the Firebirds, and his academic discipline made him an easy choice as the Thomas Law Attorneys Male Student-Athlete of the Year as presented by The Wilson Times.

“It was a surprise!” Perry said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon after receiving the award at Southern Nash’s Senior Awards Night on May 24. “I didn’t know I was going to get it. I knew I was in the running for it. Other than Best All-Around Senior, that was probably the biggest award I’ve ever gotten because the academic thing is more important than athletics.”

Academics are a big part of Perry’s life. He holds a 4.23 weighted GPA, is ranked 27th in his class and is a member of Southern Nash’s Beta Club for academic excellence. But even GPAs are competitive for the Firebirds football team, as Perry noted: “Most of our best players had over 3.5 GPAs, so that was kind of cool.”

Perry said that converting to middle linebacker required lots of extra studying.

“He watched a lot of tape on his own and asked a lot of questions,” said Robbie Kennedy, the defensive coordinator, varsity boys basketball coach and athletic director at Southern Nash.

Perry credited Kennedy and Firebirds head coach Brian Foster for providing adequate motivation.

“Coach Kenney and Coach Foster were pounding it down my throat every day so it was either learn it or get fussed at every day!” Perry said with a laugh. “But yeah, I studied a lot more than ever because I didn’t have to watch film playing tight end and at D-end, I just went at whoever was in front of me.”

Perry also pointed out that teammate Dae’One Wilkins, who moved from middle linebacker to free safety, helped teach him the finer points of playing middle linebacker.

“He picked up stuff real quick and asked a lot of questions,” Kennedy said. “Coaching people like that’s fun because you don’t have to tell them but one time to do something.”

Kennedy’s pleas for Perry to play basketball finally went heeded. Perry said that he knew he wouldn’t play a lot but wanted to have more time with some of his fellow seniors such as Wilkins and Kendrick Bell after football season was over.

“I just wanted to be around them a little more before we all left for college,” Perry said.

“I’ve been trying to get him to play for three years and he finally played,” Kennedy said. “He didn’t play a lot but he always knew what to do and he played hard. He’s just a good kid and he worked hard. I think he was brought up well and early on was taught how to work. I never had a problem with him. He was always respectful.”

Perhaps Perry’s greatest athletic feat came this spring when he finished 11th overall in Big East boys golf play, earning all-conference acclaim. Not bad for a guy who had played baseball his previous three years and had just learned how to play golf.

“I picked it up a few months before I started playing,” Perry said. “I just wanted to do something fun. Baseball had gotten to where it wasn’t as fun. I had a pretty decent year for my first time.”

Eschewing the chance to play small-college football, Perry was accepted into North Carolina State University. However, the son of Lori and Joey Perry of Spring Hope decided it made more sense to attend Nash Community College for two years and get some of his general college requirements out of the way before moving on to N.C. State. Perry plans to major in an agricultural field at State.

Perry learned a lot at Southern Nash but some of his greatest lessons came from just observing from others.

“Just listen to people who are older than you and follow their example,” he said. “(Former Southern Nash student-athlete) Kendall Parker and people who are older than me, I watched what they did, but Coach Foster tells us every day in the weight room pretty much what to do — just do your work, listen to your teachers and be respectful. If you’re respectful, they’ll help you out.”