Tony Perry doesn't have any regrets about the way his playing career ended.
Although a knee injury forced Perry to stop playing earlier than he'd hoped, the incident allowed him to get a head start on the most important chapter of his football career.
"My calling was coaching," Perry said.
By following that calling, Perry has helped dozens of younger defensive backs earn the opportunity that eluded him. That mission continues this year as Perry mentors a Fresno (Calif.) Central East secondary that features five - yes, five - legitimate Division-I prospects.
The Fresno Central East secondary includes three Rivals250 recruits in cornerback Johnny Johnson (No. 184), cornerback L.J. Moore (213) and safety Hatari Byrd (229). Cornerbacks Devon Brewer and Michiah Quick don't have ratings yet because they're 2014 prospects, but both have garnered plenty of attention.
The presence of so much talent in one defensive backfield should cause plenty of headaches for opposing quarterbacks.
"They're not even going to be able to complete a pass," Byrd said. "That's how I look at the situation. Not on me. I can't speak for the rest of my team, but I don't think they'll be able to complete a pass [against] any one of us. You always have to have that mindset. The one who shows weakness is going to get run over."
New Fresno Central East head coach Justin Garza can't wait to see how this group deals with the expectations surrounding it. Fresno Central East hired Garza away from Fresno Sunnyside.
"Anytime you walk into a situation where you have this class of kids, it's a really good thing," Garza said. "I was an assistant coach here years ago, and there have been some very good secondaries here in the past. One year we gave up 70 points all season. That was a very good secondary and kind of the standard I judge all secondaries against. This secondary will have to prove how good it's going to be compared to some of the teams in the past. We'll see how well they do. They could be the standard for the next 10-20 years if it works out well."
Perry's track record offers plenty of reason for optimism.
Before moving to Fresno Central East, Perry worked as the secondary coach at Fresno Edison and College of the Sequoias. At his previous stops, he coached Philadelphia Eagles rookie Cliff Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Robert Golden and former UCLA and NFL defensive back Ricky Manning, among others. He also worked with Fresno product Tee Shepard, the No. 4 cornerback and No. 76 overall prospect in the 2012 recruiting class.
Perry estimates he has coached 35 defensive backs who went on to play for Division-I programs.
"I've kind of got an eye for it," Perry said.
Perry's ability to spot future star cornerbacks is apparent from the progress of Moore.
"When I was younger, I used to play quarterback," Moore said. "Coach Perry always used to tell me I'm going to be a corner when I got older, but I never paid attention to him. Then, when I got to high school, he came over and turned me into a corner."
Moore could end up as Fresno Central East's starting quarterback this fall while also playing defense. Quick also is a two-way player, though he's listed on the Rivals.com database as a cornerback.
THESE FIVE ARE A HANDFUL
Fresno (Calif.) Central East's secondary features the following five players with FBS offers.
The buzz: Byrd told BruinSportsReport.com last month that UCLA was one of his top two schools, though he wouldn't name the other one. His offer list also includes Georgia, Notre Dame and Oklahoma among others.
The buzz: Quick has received offers from Houston, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and UCLA.
* - Class of 2014 prospects haven't been given official star ratings yet.
All these guys have grown to prefer defense to offense. That's become quite a trend in Fresno.
"Fresno's had a history of outstanding defensive backs, and this [Central East] group is going to go down maybe as one of the best groups ever," Rivals.com West recruiting analyst Adam Gorney said. "I don't think any of them stand out as one of the best corners ever, but as a group and as a whole, it's outstanding."
Why have so many of this school's top players gravitated to the secondary? Part of it surely is that they've seen the success previous cornerbacks and safeties enjoyed after working on Perry's teams.
"That made it easy, the guys who had gone to college playing defensive back [before],'' Perry said. "I was laughing with a friend. I said, 'Everybody used to want to play offense. They wanted to score. But they have no problem playing in that secondary.' Everybody wants to be a DB now.''
But part of it also is the makeup of the players themselves. They have the attitude required to succeed on defense.
"I think it's just a testament to the meanness in a player," Quick said. "We all have that type of mentality that comes out with us. You need it on the defensive side of the ball."
That comes through in their relationships with one another.
Moore and Byrd grew up playing on rival teams, and Byrd noted they would often talk trash with each other. Now that they're teammates, they're good friends. Yet all five of these defensive backs still like to debate which players are going to make the big plays or big hits each week.
That friendly rivalry makes each player better.
"If you don't have somebody as good as Johnny on the other side or a guy like Hatari in the back, you might slack off in practice and stuff," Moore said. "What we do, to keep ourselves motivated, we'll tell each other, 'Oh, I got a pick. What are you doing this practice?' We keep each other [motivated] and try to get each other better."
Those lessons have been passed on to their younger teammates.
Even though Quick will be only a junior this fall, he already has a good read on the key players in this secondary.
"Hatari is a flat-out beast," Quick said. "He's a monster. L.J. keeps his head on a swivel. He's a student of the game and has good knowledge. Johnny's a true player. He's always in the right spot. I just be myself out there. When I'm loose and just being me and being my own guy, I produce for the team. [Brewer] is a hard hitter. He's a very hard hitter. ... He's also up there with L.J. as far as being a student of the game.''
These students all give plenty of credit to their teacher.
They know Perry's history of producing outstanding college defensive backs who earned NFL opportunities. They want to follow a similar path, so they listen to everything he has to say.
"Every time he sees us do something wrong, he'll always make us go back and do it twice - not just once," Byrd said. "It helps me keep my focus in the game. If I go to the sideline and feel like something's wrong, he's going to point it out to me and I'll change it right then and there."
But it's not just on game day when Perry makes his impact.
"I don't think any of us would be where we are without Coach Perry," Moore said. "Every day he'll call us and make sure we work out. If we need something, he's there.''
Perry understands what his players are thinking because he once was in their position. Perry is a former defensive back in his own right, but he hurt his knee after high school and was never quite the same afterward.
The injury may have ended his dreams of making it big as a football player, but it couldn't cause him to give up the game entirely. He just found a different way to make an impact.
"It is what it is," Perry said of his injury. "I don't dwell on that. The coaching stuff worked out great for me."
And it's working out just fine for Fresno Central East.
Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech: S Delano Hill (three-star prospect, 5.7 rating, No. 28 safety in 2013 class, committed to Iowa), CB Jourdan Lewis (four-star prospect, 5.8 rating, No. 10 cornerback and No. 147 overall recruit in 2013 class, committed to Michigan, CB DeJuan Rogers (two-star prospect, 5.4 rating), ATH Damon Webb (2014 prospect with an offer from Toledo, which is recruiting him as a defensive back).
Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers: CB Tyvel Jemison (three-star prospect, 5.7 rating, No. 42 cornerback in 2013 class), CB Kendrick Mullen (two-star prospect, 5.4 rating), CB Andrew Spencer (three-star prospect, 5.5 rating)
Immokalee (Fla.): CB Mackensie Alexander (four-star prospect, 5.9 rating No. 5 cornerback and No. 65 overall recruit in 2013 class), S Mackenro Alexander (three-star prospect, 5.6 rating)
POWER POSITIONS: WHAT IT'S ABOUT
As we head into the summer, we've decided to look ahead to the 2012 fall
football season by rating which high schools have the best prospects at each
position unit. Here is the series schedule:
Mesquite (Texas) West Mesquite: CB Will Earley (three-star prospect, 5.5 rating), CB Traveon Jones (listed in Rivals.com database, though he is unrated and has no reported offers), S Kameron Miles (four-star prospect, 5.9 rating, No. 11 safety and No. 114 overall recruit in 2013 class, committed to Tennessee), S Dylan Sumner-Gardner (2014 prospect with TCU offer)
Olney (Md.) Good Counsel: CB Kendall Fuller (five-star prospect, 6.1 rating, No. 1 cornerback and No. 3 overall recruit in 2013 class), S C.J. Jones (two-star prospect, 5.3 rating), CB Kirk Garner (four-star prospect, 5.8 rating, No. 27 cornerback in 2013 class), ATH Marcel Ngachie (projects as a linebacker or safety, two-star prospect, 5.3 rating)
Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.): CB Chris Hawkins (four-star prospect, 5.9 rating, No. 7 cornerback and No. 78 overall recruit in 2013 class, committed to USC), S Tahaan Goodman (four-star prospect, 6.0 rating, No. 2 safety and No. 29 overall recruit in 2013 class)
Trotwood (Ohio) Trotwood-Madison: CB Kei Beckham (2015 prospect with offer from Illinois), CB Cameron Burrows (five-star prospect, 6.1 rating, No. 3 cornerback and No. 13 overall recruit in 2013 class, committed to Ohio State), ATH Reon Dawson (all-purpose athlete who plays cornerback, three-star prospect, 5.6 rating), ATH Harrison Johnson (listed in the Rivals.com database as a running back but also plays defensive back, 2015 prospect with offer from Illinois)
Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate Academy: S Daejuan Funderburk (2014 prospect with offers from Georgia Tech and Tennessee), S Jamal Gardner (listed in Rivals.com database, but is unrated and doesn't have any reported offers), CB Jalen Tabor (2014 prospect with national offer list that includes Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma among others), CB Justin Watson (unrated prospect with offer from Hawaii)