TEMPE, Ariz. — Suffering his first significant injury and missing an entire season of football was a letdown for Arizona State quarterback Bryce Perkins, but the cruelest part of his neck injury came in the night.
“I wanted to sleep some but the neck brace wouldn’t allow me that,” said Perkins, who demonstrated the awkward position in which he tried to snooze on his back. “It was so uncomfortable.”
Perkins spent three months in that big brace to protect two fractured vertebrae, three months worth of games watching his teammates from the sideline, and a full season out of the spotlight he once shared with Manny Wilkins and Brady White as the three battled for the starting job through spring practice and fall camp.
“Initially I was frustrated, never being hurt before — especially where we were at the time, competing,” he said. “As it went on, I tried to keep my head up because I couldn’t control it. There’s a lot of things you can’t control but what you can control is your emotions and your will to go attack every day with a positive attitude.”
Perkins brought that attitude into this season’s spring ball. It has buoyed him in an increasingly crowded QB pool that also features Wilkins, White, Alabama transfer Blake Barnett, sophomore Dillon Sterling-Cole and true freshman Ryan Kelley, making Perkins seem like an afterthought as he waits to be cleared for contact.
“It’s wide open,” he insisted of the competition, echoing a mantra the coaching staff has repeated since offensive coordinator Billy Napier arrived on campus. “The reps you get when you get in, make the plays, make the most of it and with the mistakes you make, get in the film room, correct them, come out the next day and practice, practice, practice.
“I’m not worrying about what others do. Just focus on me, focus on the plays get, the opportunities I get and capitalize on it.”
Perkins admitted Monday that he thought about transferring last season after the coaches explored the idea of him switching positions, but he said he didn’t entertain the thought for long and coach Todd Graham insisted it never got that serious.
“If I’ve got to talk you into it you’re in trouble. That’s not the deal,” Graham said. “Every place has its own set of problems and you’re going to have to compete at this level to play. At the end of the day, it’s how bad you want to be a Sun Devil and at the end of the day with Bryce, he wanted to be a Sun Devil.”
In some ways, the injury helped clarify that for Perkins in the short term. Once he got hurt, he stopped thinking about transferring, put all his energy into rehabilitation and recommitted to ASU.
“I’ve got a family, it’s a brotherhood around here,” he said. “The relationships I establish with the people around here are going to last. It’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than football, it’s going to last forever. Seeing both sides, the grass is not always greener on the other side.”
Those are the big lessons Perkins took from his year off, but there was a more practical lesson he gleaned from this experience.
Perkins suffered the neck injury in a goal-line drill when he pulled the ball in a zone read, came around the edge and got hit with his head down as he braced for contact. At first, he thought it was a stinger so he tried to finish the next play but the coaches told him to leave. He jogged to the sideline, but the neck kept hurting so he drove himself to a neck specialist at Scottsdale Osborne Medical Center the next day, had a CT scan and his doctor delivered the news.
“When I got there they were like, ‘you can’t be driving!'” Perkins said, laughing. “I’ve never been hurt like that before so when I got hurt I was like, ‘I’ll probably bounce back, I always do.'”
It looks like Perkins is bouncing back just fine.