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Resurgent Perry to test Notre Dame front four

Chris Federico | Friday, September 12, 2003

Chris Perry is running with a sense of urgency these days.

But it’s not defensive linemen chasing him or linebackers staring him down that has Michigan’s senior running back moving like he never has before.

He just wants to win – and win it all.

After all, any player that commits to a school like Michigan has dreams of playing for the title. But after three years in Ann Arbor – and without a top 10 finish or Big Ten title to show for his work – Perry realizes he has one last shot at winning it all in New Orleans this year.

“I see a Chris Perry filled with emotion and fire for every single game,” Michigan guard David Baas said of the man he clears paths for on Saturdays. “I think that is one of his best qualities. He is a great back. He wants to win. He wants to go out there and get rushing yards and help this team get to where we want to go at the end of the season.”

It’s not that Perry hasn’t played well in the past. Last season, he rushed for 1,110 yards and 14 touchdowns, but he has not lived up to the hype of a game-breaking back that many in and around the Michigan program envisioned.

“I had some issues with [Perry] where I’d want something done a certain way, but he was not on the same page,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “I had wonderful support from his mother, so we were able to get his attention and get him to do the things that we wanted him to do. I think right now he has an opportunity to become a great back.”

Through two games this year, Perry has been everything the Wolverines could want – and more. Right now, he is the leading rusher in the nation averaging 416 yards per game on the ground and four touchdowns.

“Anytime you’re the tailback at this school, you’re going to have critics,” Carr said. “Chris has taken some of that criticism and used it as motivation. … Right now, he is running with the football the way I would like him to.”

Even those outside of the Michigan program have noticed the change in Perry from last season to now. That change has people like Notre Dame defensive coordinator Kent Baer a little uneasy about what it will take to stop the improved Perry.

“He looks quicker to me. Somebody said he lost some weight, and it looks like he has,” Baer said. “He has great quickness and great cutback ability. He has tremendous vision and is very strong, and he’s really carried the load for them these first two games. We’re going to have our hands full with him, because he’s one of the better backs we’ll see this year.”

Along with a new attitude and new sense of urgency, Perry added a new workout routine in the off-season to improve his speed, quickness and endurance.

“In some ways I do feel like I’m running a little faster,” Perry said. “I think it has something to do with the workouts Coach [Mike] Gittleson and Coach [Kevin] Tolbert put us through, so I owe them credit. It’s as much of an endurance thing as it is a speed thing. When you have better endurance, you’ll be quicker for longer periods of time.”

The senior back has reaped the benefits of his work, averaging 208 yards a game on 49 carries in Michigan’s first two games against Central Michigan and Houston.

Perry acknowledges that Notre Dame’s run defense – which held Washington State to 55 yards on the ground last week – will present a different challenge than his two previous opponents.

“[Notre Dame] has a great defense. Their front seven is very fast and very athletic, and they are always running to the ball,” Perry said. “It’s going to be a challenge, and hopefully we can step up to it and handle it well.”