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Meet the Falcons' new man in the middle
Peria Jerry (94) stretches prior to Wednesday’s opening session of organized team activities. Jerry, the Falcons’ first-round pick in April’s NFL draft, did not participate in drills due to a knee injury, but said his rehab is going well.

Georgia spring football preview

By: Bill Murphy

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Peria Jerry

Height: 6-1

Weight: 299

Position: Defensive tackle

College: Ole Miss

Drafted: First round, No. 24

Peria Jerry, the Atlanta Falcons’ first-round pick in April’s draft, almost never played a down of football despite coming from a family that has put two cousins in the NFL and numerous others on Division-I football scholarships. Just a few years later he’s expected to compete for a starting job with the Falcons this fall. Jerry spoke with Times sports editor Brent Holloway recently about what finally convinced him to play and stick with football, how he spends his free time in North Mississippi, and how he’s recovering from a minor knee sprain.

QUESTION: So how’s the knee?

ANSWER: I’m rehabbing and it’s getting better. I can say that. I’m getting back, but they’re still holding me out. They just want me 100 percent before I get back. I’m working at it.

Q: Tell me about your hometown, Batesville, Miss.

A: There’s really not much to say about my hometown. I mean, it’s a small town. It’s really a football town. They’re really big on football there. Our high school has had a lot of success over the years, and people take a lot of pride in what they do, so there’s a lot of respect for my high school.

Q: So what’s your favorite football memory — it could be anything from getting drafted to Pop Warner.

A: I never even played football until high school, but I’ve tried to win championships at every level I’ve competed in, and hopefully I can do that here. That’s really my goal, just to get a ring at this level.

Q: When did you start playing football?

A: I was in ninth grade, 14 or 15 years old.

Q: What got you started then?

A: One of my cousins, Jamarca Sanford, said, "Man, you’re the only one that ain’t playing football. You should come try it out." So, I told them, "All right, I’m just gonna come try it out and then I’m gonna quit." So I played that year, and the next year I played again. Then the next year I was like "Man, I’m done with football." We had gone undefeated my ninth grade year and then my 10th grade year we went like 5-6. I said, "Man, I’m done with football." I didn’t even really want to do it, but all my friends were doing it. And then the year I didn’t play, they went to the state championship, and they lost. They were like, "Man, if you would’ve been there, we probably would’ve won." So I went and talked to the coach and he let me get back on the team.

Q: This is before your senior year?

A: Yeah. Then my senior year we went back to the state championship, and that year we won.

Q: Did you start loving football somewhere along the line?

A: Yeah, yeah. I found out it was something I could really do. I talked to my coach and he told me that my potential might be able to get me somewhere in life.

Q: Well, it’s certainly done that. Obviously, coming into the draft you were expected to be a first-round draft pick. What was that build-up to the draft like, and what was your reaction when your name was called?

A: I was kind of relaxed going into it, but when I got the call I was very excited. It wasn’t that I was really hoping to be a first-rounder, it was just all that hard work that I had put in was paying off. I almost couldn’t believe it was happening. It’s a blessing.

Q: You talked a little bit about Jamarca (who recently signed with the Minnesota Vikings). You’ve got a bunch of cousins that played at a high level and a brother that plays at Ole Miss, too. Are those cousins that you were close to growing up?

A: Oh yeah, we probably slept in the same bed together growing up. The house was packed. We’re real close, we all grew up together.

Q: So how did they all get into football before you did?

A: See, that’s what I don’t even know. It was something they did all the way up from junior high, and it was something that I just never really wanted to do. I liked basketball, but I couldn’t play. I couldn’t make the team, but I was at all the games. I still like basketball today, but I mean, I can’t play — just streetball.

Q: What else do you like to do outside of football?

A: I like to fish, but I’m also a hunter. I hunt a lot with my friends back home.

Q: If you couldn’t play football, what do you think you’d like to do?

A: Probably coach little kids.

Q: What’s something that your new fans in Georgia may not know about you?

A: I don’t know. There’s really not much to know about me. I’m pretty upfront.

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