Friday, December 6, 2013
ORONO - Justin Perillo switched the number on his University of Maine football jersey. The 86 that became so familiar to opponents and fans last season is now 80. He dropped 15 pounds this summer from his 6-foot-4 frame, giving him a different profile.
Justin Perillo, right, rose from third to first on the UMaine tight end depth chart last year and did such a bang-up job, he was named a preseason All-American this year.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
What's up with this? Trying for the incognito look?
"No, no," said Perillo. "The coaching staffs in this conference are so good, they know who I am."
He grinned. No disguise can work for him now. He went from third-string tight end to Colonial Athletic Association all-star in fewer than 13 games. He caught 51 passes for 511 yards and four touchdowns last season. One was for 8 yards from Warren Smith in overtime of the incredible victory over James Madison.
Chris Treister's whirly-gig dive into the end zone for the winning 2-point conversion is the play Maine fans won't forget anytime soon. But Perillo had to score the touchdown first. In fact, it was Perillo who snapped the ball to Treister moments later.
Then Perillo peeled off the line, heading to the back of the end zone, giving Treister, the backup quarterback, another option on the conversion. "It all happened in front of me," said Perillo. "It was beautiful. I've never been part of something that was more exciting."
That sequence was the Maine football season in microcosm. The team went 4-7 in 2010 and was picked to finish near the bottom of the CAA a year later. Instead, Maine won nine out of its 13 games. Difference-makers popped up in each of the victories. Perillo was certainly one.
"I wouldn't say I ever wanted to pinch myself. We had great senior leadership and we knew we could play well. But I don't think we expected it to happen the way it did."
During last summer's preseason camp, he was working his way up from third on the depth chart. Jeff Falvey wasn't coming back quickly from a knee injured in spring practice. Derek Buttles was the go-to tight end but tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the early-season victory over Albany.
Suddenly, Perillo was the man. He was yet another of the misfit toys Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove talks so much about. Maine was the only school to show Perillo some love -- and some scholarship money -- after he played his last season at The Tatnall School in Wilmington, Del.
He had the size to block defenders and the good hands to catch a football. Good hands? He scored more than 1,000 points in basketball for Tatnall. All he wanted was the chance to show he could play and play well at Maine.
His is the familiar story that Maine fans can't hear enough. Cosgrove gets the players who are motivated to prove how wrong the rest of the football world was in writing them off. Nope, this kid isn't worth our money or our time.
Sam Shipley, a 25-year-old junior college transfer from Santa Barbara, Calif., might be the next Perillo. He played at linebacker last season, was moved to fullback for this year and is now getting some looks at tight end. Sure, football is a game for specialists but there's growing appreciation for the multi-taskers. Patriots Coach Bill Belichick has asked wide receivers to play the corners in the defensive secondary. He's asked linebackers to catch passes or block in the backfield.
"I saw how fast things can change last year," said Shipley. Maine can go three or four deep at many positions, but the talent and experience levels can vary dramatically.
"I have to be ready," said Shipley. "I never want to be the one to hold the offense back."
Perillo was and is ready for the Sept. 8 opener at Boston College.
He was named a preseason All-American. He's on watch lists. His cover, his anonymity, was blown last year.
The number switch? It's in tribute to Buttles, who wore 80 last year and was an immense help to Perillo. The 15-pound weight loss? Leaner and meaner always works.
"I liked sweets too much," said Perillo. "I've learned to push them away."
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: