In a little more than three weeks the NFL draft will convene and teams at the top will jockey for a game-breaking defensive player, quarterbacks and wide receivers.
The draft for Saturday’s spring game at the University of Toledo went a little differently. The top pick was a 6-foot-6, 310-pound offensive guard who has been on the field for exactly five plays in the last two seasons.
Granted, there were numerous asterisks involved. Seniors aren’t included; they do the drafting. Surgery rehab kept a couple standout linemen, Greg Mancz and Jeff Myers, off the field.
Still, Paul Perschon was the No. 1 pick and the Rockets are hoping he proves to be the best O-lineman with whom no one is familiar.
“I suppose from an outsider’s perspective that seemed strange,” said senior Josh Hendershot, who has started 25 consecutive games at left tackle and will likely move to center to replace departed star Zac Kerin. “But Paul had a great winter and spring. He really stepped up. His personality is completely changed and he wants to get better every day. He deserved this.”
Still, it was a surprise. Head coach Matt Campbell said no one was more taken aback than his wife, Erica, who knows how Perschon had frustrated her husband and his UT coaching staff.
“Truthfully, he’s been in my doghouse for maybe a year and a half,” Campbell said.
There are different levels of doghouse. Perschon was in a back corner where it’s very dark and all you can see is tails and … well, you get the point.
“There have been growing pains,” Campbell said. “You want to see guys reach their full potential, academically and athletically. I think Paul would tell you he had some academic challenges. Nothing awful, mind you. He’s a great kid and he just had to find the right direction. He’s made that commitment and now he has a chance to be a really good player here.”
That’s no small thing, because Perschon is big and strong and because this could be one of the best-ever offensive lines at UT even with Kerin gone. There is one starting slot open and whether Perschon earns it really is neither here nor there.
“I think for the first time since I’ve been here we can truly have a two-deep offensive line and all 10 guys can play at a high level,” Campbell said. “He’ll be a part of that.”
Perschon was on the field for every snap Saturday as his Blue team won 20-7 at the Glass Bowl. Lined up at left guard between Hendershot (6-4, 295) at center and Storm Norton (6-8, 310) at tackle, it was a formidable wall that helped protect quarterback Phillip Ely as he completed 17 passes for 220 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Officially, Perschon’s UT career includes a red-shirt year and five plays in the fourth quarter of a 2013 blowout win over Eastern Michigan.
“For a while, it seemed like every time I turned things up something would happen to set me back,” Perschon said. “Getting in that one game was big for me and this spring, well, I feel like there’s nothing in my way.”
His teammates agreed. On draft day, he was No. 1.
“It kind of took me by surprise,” he said. “It meant a lot to know the seniors felt that way. I’m extremely excited to know I can compete with these guys. And, trust me; I know how good these guys are.”
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.