PULLMAN – It only took one minute for Jim Mastro to break the mold.
The Washington State running backs coach has always preferred to recruit a certain type of player – big, fast backs who can outrun a defense after they have exhausted the defenders with physical play.
But when special teams coach Eric Mele, who handles much of WSU’s west-side recruiting, pointed him to 5-foot-9, 175-pound running back Caleb Perry out of King’s High in Shoreline, Mastro knew he could make an exception for a player who could even outrun defenders who were not tired.
“Mele said Mastro looked at his film and about a minute in said, ‘I want this kid,’ ” said Jim Shapiro, Perry’s coach at King’s. “What he wants him for – I’ve never seen a kid that can stop and start, and then start again the way Caleb can. He’s lightning fast and really quick.”
Perry’s speed will add a new threat to WSU’s running back hydra. Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and James Williams combined to rush for more than 1,500 yards and catch for more than 1,000 in 2016. The three backs all had their various strengths, but the Cougars used them all in similar fashions, leaning on whichever player had the hot hand in a given game.
While Perry may not be able to blend in with the crowd like the others – the shorter running back running onto the field is going to be a dead giveaway the Cougars are going to try something explosive – the WSU coaches are willing to trade deception for his speed.
“The coaches want to get me out in space, out in the open,” Perry said. “If we’re doing any running plays like outside sweeps, or bubble screens, kick return, punt return – just getting me out in space so it’s a track meet.”
A track meet would be a pretty comfortable setting for Perry, who won a state title in the 100-meter dash and has been timed as fast as 10.6 seconds in that event. Perry’s recruitment blossomed last summer when he was electronically timed at 4.38 in the 40-yard dash at football camps.
In pursuit of scholarship offers, Perry toured most of the Pac-12 showing off his speed at various camps, although he was unable to attend WSU’s. He earned scholarship offers from Cincinnati, and even from Missouri of the much-hyped SEC. But to find some variety, he stuck with the familiar school closer to home.
“The SEC is too bread and butter,” Perry said. “It’s too, ‘All right, line up in the I-formation and we’re going to run the ball straight into a pile of bodies.’ Washington State, they mix it up and they’re very strategic about what they’re doing. Every play is precise.”
Shapiro credits Perry’s offseason work with turning him from a fast high school player into a blazing college prospect.
“I think he naturally would have been about a 4.5 guy,” Shapiro said. “I think his work in the offseason really pushed him to the D1 level.”
The WSU coaches will be able to give Perry their own offseason plan once he signs his letter of intent on Wednesday, in the King’s High library after school. But they do not want him changing his body too much until he arrives on campus on June 22, so they can decide how much weight he can carry while keeping his speed.
Until then, Perry is helping the team by talking to other committed players in a group chat on Twitter, trying to become the same type of leader in college he was in high school.
“We’ve had other D1 kids and it can go one of two ways. They either get really cocky and make it all about them, or they’re a team player,” Shapiro said. “He was very much a team player. When he worked hard, the other kids worked hard.”
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