Navy's Perry has pro ability, now has opportunity thanks to recent DOD order
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital | Published: November 28, 2019
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Malcolm Perry showed up at the Navy football post-game press conference on Saturday sporting a clean-shaven scalp.
That’s because Perry received Marine Corps Ground as a service assignment last Thursday afternoon.
It’s become a tradition for all Navy football players that service select Marine Corps to shave their heads after the announcement is made. Perry’s fellow senior captains, Ford Higgins and Paul Carothers, were also newly bald when they appeared in the Yeager Pavilion to meet with the media following Navy’s huge 35-28 victory over SMU.
However, there is an increasing probability that Perry will not wind up at Marine Corps Base Quantico in northern Virginia for basic training any time soon. A record-setting senior season combined with a recently issued Department of Defense order has increased the chance of Perry playing in the National Football League next season.
Perry has more than proven himself on the field this season, ranking fifth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing yardage (1,354) and rushing touchdowns (18). The 5-9, 185-pound speedster has put together an impressive highlight reel of jaw-dropping runs that would make any NFL scout sit up and take notice.
“Malcolm has the skill set, that’s not even a question. He has the speed, the quickness, the agility — the overall playmaking ability that people are looking for,” Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said. “It’s just a matter of getting an opportunity then going out and taking full advantage of it.”
In years past, NFL organizations have been reluctant to draft service academy graduates because of the five-year military commitment that is required. Earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper signed a memorandum outlining guidelines that would allow service academy athletes to pursue professional sports immediately after graduation.
That memo stated that athletes with pro aspirations must obtain approval from the defense secretary and mandated they eventually fulfill their military obligation or repay the cost of their education.
Esper’s highly anticipated order came at the request of President Donald Trump, who directed the Pentagon in June to implement a policy that would allow service academy athletes to delay their active duty commitment in order to play professional sports. President Trump had given the Pentagon four months to develop the new guidelines.
Trump issued that order after the Army West Point football team visited the White House for the formal presentation of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. Trump stated that athletes graduating from the academies and Reserve Officer Training Corps should be able to defer their military service obligations due to the “short window of time” they have to “take advantage of their athletic talents during which playing professional sports is realistically possible.”
In the new memo, Esper says that military service secretaries can nominate an athlete for a waiver after determining there “is a strong expectation that a Military Service Academy cadet or midshipman’s future professional sports employment will provide the DoD with significant favorable media exposure likely to enhance national level recruiting or public affairs missions.”
Esper’s memo contained two important caveats. It took effect on Nov. 8, 2019, which means the graduating class of 2020 will be the first impacted. Also, it decreed that athletes approved for the waiver would not be commissioned as officers immediately following graduation.
That first provision would mean former Navy baseball player Noah Song is not covered by the new directive since he graduated with the Class of 2019. Song, a fourth-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox who spent this past summer with the organization’s rookie league affiliate in the New York-Penn League, is due to report to Naval flight school in Pensacola, Florida, in December.
Naval Academy athletic director Chet Gladchuk told The Capital Song is currently petitioning the Secretary of the Navy in hopes the new mandate can be retroactively applied.
It also means if Perry is chosen in the 2020 NFL Draft and granted a waiver to attend training camp, he would not be commissioned as a Marine Corps officer. Gladchuk said commissioning would simply be delayed until an affected athlete’s professional career was completed and that individual was then ready to serve.
Ken Niumatalolo, in his 12th year as head coach of Navy football, believes the new Department of Defense memorandum is a game-changer.
“It’s a great time to be a Navy football player. I think that’s the case for all the service academies,” Niumatalolo said following practice on Tuesday night. “Academics are great, you play football at a high level and now you have a chance if you’re drafted to go to the NFL.
“I never thought this day would come. I never anticipated it, nor did we lobby for it, but it is certainly exciting,” Niumatalolo added.
Gladchuk and Niumatalolo both agreed the new mandate would positively impact athletic recruiting across the board at the service academies.
“I think it really levels the playing field in terms of recruiting. The Naval Academy has always offered a top-notch education along with a guaranteed job after graduation,” Gladchuk said. “Now we can also offer an opportunity to play professional sports if that avenue presents itself with the ability to still come back and serve the country at a later date.
“To be honest, this is a really significant development that actually tips the scales in favor of the service academies in some respects. We can now offer the best of both worlds,” Gladchuk added.
Niumatalolo has noted many times in the past how rare it is for any of the service academies to have a legitimate NFL prospect. Since 1964, only seven Naval Academy graduates have played in a National Football League regular season game with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach being the most prominent.
Running back Napoleon McCallum spent six seasons in the NFL with the Los Angeles Raiders after being taken in the fourth round of the 1986 NFL Draft. Defensive tackle Bob Kuberski, a seventh-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in 1993, enjoyed a five-year career in the NFL.
Joe Cardona, a 2015 graduate, has been the starting long snapper for the New England Patriots for the past five years after being drafted in the fifth round. Record-setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds was a sixth-round selection of the Baltimore Ravens in 2016 and wound up appearing in two regular season games as a slot receiver for the Seattle Seahawks.
Standout wide receiver Phil McConkey was not drafted out of Navy, but signed with the New York Giants as a free agent following his service commitment. McConkey spent seven seasons in the NFL and was one of the heroes for the Giants when they won Super Bowl XXI.
Fullback Kyle Eckel also signed as a free agent after being discharged from the Navy following two years on active duty. Eckel spent a total of six seasons in the NFL, mostly as a member of practice squads.
Eckel appeared in 24 regular season games - 12 with the New England Patriots, seven with the New Orleans Saints and five with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Philadelphia native was with the Saints when they played in Super Bowl XLIV.
Niumatalolo was asked if he thinks Navy has an NFL-caliber player on the roster right now.
“I think we do, but I’m just a college football coach. We’ll let them (NFL scouts) make that decision,” Niumatalolo said. “I definitely feel like Malcolm is a really good football player. Just look at his body of work.”
It was announced last week that Perry has accepted an invitation to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl, being held January 18 in St. Petersburg, Florida. That game, which will be played at Tropicana Field, will be televised by the NFL Network.
“That’s something I’m excited about and looking forward to. It’s a great opportunity and I couldn’t say no to it. I feel fortunate to have been selected,” Perry said of the East-West Shrine Bowl.
Being invited to any of the country’s most prestigious senior all-star games is a clear indication a player is considered a pro prospect. Organizers of such events often rely on NFL scouts for recommendations.
Perry was asked about the prospect of playing in the NFL.
“Of course, as a kid growing up that’s something I fantasized about. Having the opportunity would be wonderful,” he said. “Of course, I have the military obligation. If (the NFL) doesn’t happen, I’m happy where I’m at. This school develops officers to go out and lead sailors and marines. That’s something I look forward to doing.”
Perry is well aware of the recent Department of Defense directive and knows he could be among the first to benefit if indeed he is selected in the 2020 NFL Draft.
“For the timing to line up with my senior year, I’m extremely grateful,” Perry said.
Reynolds was a four-year starter at quarterback for Navy and set the school record for career rushing yards with 4,559 along with the NCAA record for career touchdowns with 88. However, the 5-foot-10, 191-pounder was forced to switch to slot receiver after reaching the NFL.
Reynolds has watched Perry play many times, both in-person and on television, and believes he’s capable of competing at the professional level.
“I think Malcolm has the skill set, for sure. It’s just going to depend on getting the right opportunity at the right position with the right organization,” Reynolds said.
Perry has also played slotback at Navy so the transition to either running back or slot receiver may not be quite as difficult as it was for Reynolds, a career-long quarterback.
“Malcolm is probably more athletic than I am and has played another position. At the same time, there is always a major transition going from college to the NFL,” Reynolds said. “I’ve had scouts ask me about Malcolm: Can he play at the next level? Without a doubt, he has the ability to contribute.”
Perry recognizes he would be almost assuredly asked to play a different skill position if drafted or invited to an NFL training camp.
“I have no aspirations to go play quarterback in the NFL, by any means,” he said. “I think it’s pretty understood that if I did get the opportunity it would be at slot receiver or some other position.”