William Perry isn't the least bit offended when people talk about how much he eats. He laughs when the story is told about the time former teammate Perry Tuttle treated at McDonald's, and Perry's bill was $22.
Perry finds it even funnier when his wife talks about him eating an entire box of cereal for breakfast. "He doesn't care what brand it is," Sherry Perry says, "but I have to serve it to him in a mixing bowl."
Actually, Perry says, Tuttle's McDonald's story is exaggerated. After all, $22 will buy about eight Big Macs, five bags of fries, three large soft drinks, a couple of sundaes and a cherry pie. "How much did I spend? Not that much. Probably only $10 or $15," so cut that order back to four Macs and two fries.
Perry, nicknamed "The Refrigerator," laughs again. "I don't mind at all when people talk about how much I eat. I really get a kick out of it and laugh along with everybody else. Right now, I probably weigh between 330 and 335 pounds."
Perry, Clemson's senior nose guard, laughs at a good story, even if the joke is on him. The only things he doesn't find funny are being called "Bill" and those little guys in helmets on the other side of the line who try to advance a football. Them, he hates.
There are those people who look at Perry, who is 6 feet 3, and think he can't possibly have the agility or quickness to be an effective defensive player. What they don't know is that Perry can dunk a basketball or that he runs a 40-yard dash in 5.1 seconds, which is about average for a lineman.
Here are just a few memorable things Perry has done this season with that size and quickness.
Against Wake Forest, says Tom Harper, Clemson's defensive line coach, Perry picked up an opposing blocker (216-pound Toby Cole), ran with him and threw him into the punter, causing Harry Newsome to punt the ball into Cole's rear end. Perry, for that feat, was credited with a block and 36-yard punt return.
Against North Carolina, Perry stopped the Tar Heels on a crucial series by squashing Ethan Horton behind the line of scrimmage on consecutive plays, then on third down, hitting the quarterback and forcing an interception.
Against North Carolina State, Perry forced a safety by taking the center, fullback and quarterback (who had the ball) into the end zone. Also in that game, Perry ran so hard trying to get to quarterback Tim Esposito that he crashed into the goalpost, causing it to quiver.
As Wake Forest Coach Al Groh said, "He's one of the few defensive players in the country who can disrupt a game."
Harper has given up trying to figure out how Perry does what he does. "There's no real way to account for him," Harper said yesterday. "There's no way a man that size should be that quick, or have that balance. He shouldn't be able to change direction the way he does. There's no way for me to communicate 'why' to you. It doesn't make sense that he can pursue or run down a running back.
"He's a freak. When he picked up that kid at Wake and threw him, it was unbelievable. He looks like a big Kodiak bear. William Perry is sure enough the ninth wonder of the world."
When Perry arrives at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium Saturday to play Maryland, he will be within reach of the Atlantic Coast Conference record for career sacks, held by former Maryland defensive guard Mike Corvino, who had 24. Perry's total is 21.
His achievements carry even more importance considering this is Perry's first season as a full-time player. In previous years, he split playing time with William Devane. "When (Perry) got here I told him I was gonna treat him like a fine wine, and you never pour a fine wine before it's time," Harper said. "But now comes this year, and (Perry) is caught without his stable mate. People questioned his endurance. Well, he's played the whole contest against a bunch of them."
The people who have a lot of questions about Perry are the pro scouts. One NFL scout said yesterday that he didn't think Perry could "go hard" for more than two or three straight plays. If a team really got him into shape, the scout said, Perry might be able to play nose tackle. Even with all those ifs, the scout admitted Perry would be drafted in the top three rounds.
Perry is aware that the NFL people want him to lose weight. "They ask me, 'Your weight, can you get it down?' And I say, 'You're paying me a salary, I'll do whatever you ask.' But I really don't get tired. I never get winded or lose it late in the fourth quarter. I heard people saying that for a couple of years. I've wanted to prove something to the pro scouts. I wanted to play the whole game because I can make things happen the whole game."
Specifically, Perry makes things happen when it counts, such as on third and two. Of his 236 career tackles, 54 (23 percent) have come behind the line of scrimmage, which Clemson says is an unusually high percentage.
But does Perry play that hard on first and 10? "Well, certain plays are bigger than others. But I really care about the whole thing," he said. "I don't try to wait until fourth down to make a great play, but a lot of times it might just happen on third or fourth down."
Harper thinks the pros are nitpicking. NFL people, he feels, like things in nice, neat packages that they can judge quickly, by comparing to other packages. Perry escapes comparisons.
"The bad part," Harper says, "is that the pro scouts have never encountered an animal like this. How can they justify, with his soft middle, doing what he does? He doesn't fit the norm and they want him to. Of all the things you judge an athlete on -- strength, quickness, speed, ability, etc. -- the only one they could legitimately question was endurance. And now he's proven he's got that."
Clemson thinks Perry, already an all-America, is a strong candidate to win the Outland Trophy, given to the nation's best lineman. The school spent $10,000 to produce 4,000 life-size posters of Perry, wearing an all-orange uniform. The jersey, large as it must be, can't cover his belly. The poster is so wide, it cannot fit on a conventional door.
"It took about four hours to make," Perry said, "and I loved it."
Perry took the next minute to talk a bit about his little brother Mike, who also plays on Clemson's defensive line. Little Mike stands 6-2, weighs about 270. Just a kid.