When Morris (Ill.) quarterback Donovan Monahan took the Class 6A championship game’s final snap and took a knee, IU-bound offensive lineman Alex Perry was overcome by one emotion – relief.
The 14-9 win over Normal H.S. capped a perfect 14-0 season for Morris, a high school that sits in the middle of a town of 15,000 that revolves around its Redskins. A long-time Illinois football powerhouse, Morris had piled up plenty of wins over the years and turned out its fair share of promising college prospects, but it had been 21 years since the team had finished a season with a state championship.
“When he took that knee, it hits you that you’ve won the state championship,” said Perry.
This wasn’t a three or four-year journey for Perry. In fact, the Perry family has long been a big part of the success of the Morris football program. Back in the day, Perry’s father, Mark, played for the program before it developed into one of the state’s best. In more recent years, Alex’s brother, Brian, his brother in law, Chris, and his cousin, Derek, all suited up for the Redskins.
Each had plenty of success, but couldn’t capture that elusive state championship. Derek – who would eventually sign with Missouri and play college football at the Big 12 school – led his team to the state semifinals before bowing out. His brother Brian advanced to the quarterfinals before coming up just short of fulfilling his championship dream.
Even Alex had his share of heartbreaking losses. As a junior, Morris advanced to the state championship game before dropping a heartbreaker to the school’s arch-nemesis, Joliet Catholic H.S.
“It was real tough losing that game,” recalls Perry. “We had a lot of hype, too. We were said to be one of the best teams in school history, and we felt like we were a disappointment because we didn’t win it. It was tough, especially having to watch all the seniors go out with a loss like that.
“We wanted to make sure our senior year didn’t end like that.”
Perry, Monahan, tailback John Dergo, and Clemson-bound defensive end/offensive lineman Jamie Cumbie made sure that didn’t happen. Morris ran over the competition all season long, culminating in the perfect record, a No. 16 national ranking, and that coveted state championship. That included a win over Joliet Catholic in the state quarterfinals on Morris’ home field, a victory that made Morris’ journey that much sweeter.
“They are always the team that gets in our way and we couldn’t get by them,” said Perry. “But this year we got by them. After that, we just had to survive the last two weeks because it was tough getting ready to go.”
Morris did survive those final two games and eventually was able to hoist the Class 6A state title overhead at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. There were plenty of Perrys in the stands that afternoon, including all of those who had come within a whisker of winning their own state championship.
The celebration didn’t end there, though. When the team returned home, the city organized a parade for the team, with the entire town lining the city’s streets to share in the victory. Perry and the team’s other three captains led the way, riding in the bucket on one of the city’s fire trucks. Just about every police car and fire engine in the Morris arsenal was in use during the parade, which ended back at the high school for a school assembly/celebration.
“We’re a football town through and through,” said Perry. “It’s always been that way, and growing up I have always been a part of it and always watched it and had family go through it. The town has been great and supports it very much.”
Perry knows he’ll always be remembered in Morris for his role in bringing that big prize to the small town, but now he’s focused on venturing out and making a name for himself in Bloomington. The 6-6, 250-pounder will arrive at IU in the fall as one of seven offensive linemen in the 2006 recruiting class.
“I’m pretty excited, and a little nervous to get it going,” said Perry. “I’m really looking forward to it, but I have a big challenge ahead of me.”
Coming from a small town Perry admits it will be an adjustment getting used to being away from the comforts of Morris. But he’s ready to tackle those challenges as a promising offensive tackle for Coach Terry Hoeppner’s squad beginning in the fall.
He finalized those plans Wednesday, when he inked his IU letter of intent at the high school. It’s a huge accomplishment for Perry, one that he says rivals what he and his teammates accomplished on the football field last fall.
“It’s going to be right up there with (the state title),” said Perry. “Probably just as good, if not better. That was a great day, but this is pretty exciting, too.”