Miami Hurricanes’ dynamic duo on defense
Although the friends are only sophomores, linebacker Denzel Perryman and defensive end Anthony Chickillo will be relied upon to lead their unit. Their actions have shown they are up for the challenge.
By Susan Miller Degnan
Denzel Perryman gained 20 pounds of muscle in the past year. So, naturally, being a confident 19-year-old football player, he occasionally struts around his University of Miami campus bare-chested.
Maybe more than occasionally.
“Denzel has a problem,” former UM linebacker Jordan Futch insisted. “He never wears a shirt and he’s all cut up. I’m like, ‘Dude, I know you look like Hercules, but you’ve got to put a shirt on.’
“Next thing you know, none of the linebackers wear shirts.”
Perryman, just as Futch predicted, blamed his little habit on Miami strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey.
“Coach Swasey got me feeling right, feeling good,” the middle linebacker explained with a cool smile. “So, I don’t mind showing off the work.”
Perryman’s good friend Anthony Chickillo, a defensive end, isn’t quite as provocative off the field, but regularly riles up his teammates on it. He’s often seen leading the Hurricanes in the C-A-N-E-S cheer, bouncing around Greentree Field with his fingers wagging and body contorting as his teammates envelope him.
“It’s kind of funny to watch this big, intense guy imitating Sebastian the Ibis,” cornerback Brandon McGee said. “But we’re doing it right there alongside him.”
Sebastian the Ibis has nothing on Chickillo. The 19-year-old, known to play through whatever ails him — back pulls, neck strains, sinus infections — displays the rugged, old-school temperament his father and grandfather did as Hurricanes.
Chickillo is the first third-generation football player at Miami. His father, Tony, played nose tackle from 1979 to 1982 before being drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tony’s father, Nick, was a two-way, first-team All-American lineman in 1952 and was the president of the UM Sports Hall of Fame when he died 12 years ago.
“Growing up it was always the Miami Hurricanes and nothing else,” Chickillo said. “It would mean everything to bring Miami back to where it’s supposed to be, on the highest pedestal in college football.”
Different, but same
The ever-smiling Perryman is part goofball, part comedian and all swagger off the field. The more serious Chickillo is mostly business. Both are caring and good students. Together they form a gritty, intimidating tandem on the field, a duo that coaches say must forge a significant leadership role this season, even as sophomores.
Chickillo, a former Tampa Alonso High All-American defensive end who was the Canes’ most coveted recruit in 2011, played in all 12 games last season as a freshman, starting the last nine. He finished seventh in tackles with 38, had 6 1/2 tackles for loss and five sacks — tied for the team lead with former safety Ray-Ray Armstrong. He also forced and recovered a fumble.
The 6-4 end, dubbed “Chick” by his teammates, went from 238 pounds in December to 262 now.
“My biggest lesson last season was that you’ve got to keep your body going at full speed,” said Chickillo, who expects “double-digit” sacks in 2012. “Your body is what makes your money in this game, and you’ve got to keep it healthy. Last year, I lost too much weight during the season.”
UM defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio agreed that Chickillo “at times was a little bit undersized,” but added that he also was “wise beyond his years. He had technique, he had savvy and he was able to get through it. Now that he’s packed on 24 pounds, he’s in a different category as far as confidence and strength.
“He’s a real student of the game, works really hard at the little nuances. Certainly it helps that his dad played.”
This is how former linebacker and fellow starting defensive end Shayon Green described his bookend: “Smart, high motor, motivated, tough and full of energy.”
Tony Chickillo said when Anthony chose to sign with Miami “it was his birthright to play for the Canes.
“There’s no doubt it’s in his genes.”
Although his older brother Quintero Frierson was a linebacker at Rutgers, Perryman doesn’t have quite the same type of bloodlines. But he has the talent. Now up to 230 pounds on his 6-foot frame, Perryman competed last season on the weak side but moved to the middle in the spring. Like Chickillo, he played in every game, starting five and earning freshman All-American honors. He was the most prolific freshman tackler in the Atlantic Coast Conference with 69 and trailed only former linebacker Sean Spence (106) at UM. He had 6 1/2 tackles for loss, one sack and two forced fumbles.
“People tell me all the time how much Denzel reminds them of me,” Spence, Perryman’s mentor, said last season. “The truth is, he’s probably better than me when I was a freshman.”
Perryman is a whirlwind of energy on the field, but he spent the offseason trying to get better off it. He studied his playbook diligently and watched more film, worked on getting off blocks quicker, improved his conditioning and developed his upper-body strength so substantially that linemen should have a harder time containing him.
In his final game of 2011, a loss at home against the Boston College team UM will open with Saturday in Chestnut Hill, Mass., Perryman was a madman with 14 tackles. And that was before his bench-press max went from 295 pounds to 400 (and from 17 repetitions at 225 pounds to 30).
“He’s passionate,” Swasey said.
Backup middle linebacker Gionni Paul said Perryman plays like Ray Lewis. “He has a motor,” Paul said, “and once he gets going he never stops.”
Perryman grew up in Overtown and starred at Coral Gables High. He wears the No. 52 of former UM great Lewis with pride. His father Desmond, service manager at The Collection car dealership in Coral Gables, coached Denzel and his three brothers in Pop Warner, where they played in back of Carver Junior High in Coconut Grove. Desmond also coached former UM stars Frank Gore and Roscoe Parrish.
Beginning at age 6, Denzel — a guard on the offensive line and tackle on defense — watched film after every youth game, then worked on correcting mistakes. Desmond said he knew his son would be “real special” when he saw him, as a 7-year-old, “run down a kid at least 15 yards straight in front of him” and catch him 3 yards before the end zone.
Perryman recently went to get his jersey one day midway through fall camp and realized he was given the everyday green instead of the first-team black. Coach Al Golden said he was in a “little rut” and the linebacker took it as a lesson.
“You can’t go out Monday 100 miles an hour and come out Tuesday at 75,” his father said. “They just want the same person every day.”
The black jersey returned soon afterward.
The mothers of Perryman and Chickillo said they saw the leadership skills in their sons at a young age. Sandra Perryman, a Miami-Dade special education teacher, said Denzel always was a charmer and was seen as a “peacemaker” in school. “He never liked trouble,” she said.
Anthony managed to be ultra-competitive and supportive at the same time. As a 9-year-old, Anthony was in tears when his Pop Warner team lost in the last second of the championship game. “Everybody was crying,” said Joan, a preschool teacher. “Anthony consoled his teammates and assured them they did everything they could.
“He would never let anyone get down.”
Now, the two compadres vow to prove the naysayers wrong. Last year’s 6-6 record was unacceptable, they say, even if others are predicting worse for 2012.
“You’ve just got to live up to your own expectations and make sure you pull the other guys along,” Chickillo said. “Nobody thinks we’re going to have a good year, but we believe we will.”
Said Perryman: “Being the underdog is motivation for everyone. We’re going to shock some people this year.”