Six may be the number many associate with Charleston Southern wideout Nathan Perera.
That’s how many years Perera, one of three super seniors on the Bucs’ roster, has spent at CSU. Seven-hundred-and-twelve, though, is another number to keep in mind. That’s how many days Perera went between games from September 2012 to August 2014.
The journey from Sept. 15, 2012 in Champaign, Ill., to Aug. 28, 2014, in Charleston, S.C., was a long one. A torn labrum, a coaching change, the completion of a bachelor’s degree, the start of a master’s program, a torn ACL and a 6-8 month rehabilitation process all transpired during that time. All of that made CSU’s 2014 opener against Point extra special for Perera.
“It was a tough road back because that was my first game in two years,” Perera said. “I was just doing everything to get to that point. Even talking to people, kidding around about ‘oh it’s game week finally’, and I was ‘no like, no, no, haven’t made it yet. It was a Thursday night game so I said ‘Wednesday night, Wednesday night we can talk about it.’
“Stepping on that field, I didn’t have one pass but I had no care in the world about getting the ball or not. I was able to go in there and block some people and we came out with the win so that’s all that mattered.”
Perera had many passes thrown his way in the weeks that followed. After charting plays from the press box during CSU’s record-breaking 2013 season, Perera recovered from a torn ACL to emerge as the Bucs’ top receiver in 2014. Twenty-eight catches, 398 yards, both team highs. Perhaps no one was happier for Perera than wide receivers coach Willy Korn.
“I drove him back to his apartment that day when it happened, and it was a really tough day to see him go through that,” Korn said of the July 2013 day that Perera tore his right ACL during a 7-on-7 drill.
“I just related to that because I remember the first time that I really got an opportunity to play after having so many injuries,” continued Korn, who played quarterback under coach Jamey Chadwell at North Greenville following stops at Clemson and Marshall. “At that point, when you’ve been at the lowest of the lows, it’s not about your personal stats or how many balls you catch or how many touchdowns you catch. It’s just for the love and excitement of going out and competing with your brothers.”
Perera competed at a high level and was a bright spot for CSU during its winless 2011 season. He earned All-Big South Conference honors, ranked second in receptions and receiving yards per game in league games, and posted a banner 10-catch, 232-yard day against eventual conference champion Stony Brook.
Perera was poised for more of the same in 2012, but tore his labrum against Illinois in the third game of the season. CSU rallied from a 0-3 start to finish 5-6, and then rallied around Chadwell when the then-36 year old was named head coach in January 2013.
“When he first took over, it was about buying in and just if you buy in, things are gonna change,” Perera said. “And I mean, by all the changes I’ve seen over the last coming on six years now, it’s true. He’s been here for going on three years and things are already changing. It’s unreal how much has changed.”
Ten wins and a No. 22 final national ranking later, the CSU program had been revitalized. Perera aided in that process by charting plays from the press box, and observing Korn and quarterbacks coach Mark Tucker. He gained a coaching perspective and, more importantly, a closer relationship with his coaches.
“The new coaching staff, I think they helped a ton,” Perera said. “They know how to be serious when we need to be, but they know how to kid around with us too. I think them being able to kid around with me and just make me laugh more and just being there for me, things like that, helped me through it.”
Help is what Perera is providing to freshman wideout Saire Davis, among others. Each freshmen on the Bucs’ roster is assigned an older brother, and Davis is eager to learn from the 23 year old above him on the depth chart. Davis, whose meticulous note taking and quick grasp of CSU’s spread option attack have impressed Perera, has seen action in each of CSU’s first two games.
“I honestly want to thank God for putting him in my life because he’s actually like a brother that I never had,” Davis said. “I always wanted to be a brother and he kind of stepped in. Ever since I got here from day one, he has been riding on everything, every small detail. He helped me out with making sure I’m managing my time right in school, making sure I’m eating, just doing everything that he did as he grew up as a college student and a college athlete.
“It will be like in the middle of the night and I’ll text him and ask him about a play and he’ll tell me or remind me about something. All the time I need help with something, I always go to him first because he’s someone that knows it.”
Perera said his knee, which bothered him at times throughout last season, feels as good as it ever has. Korn agrees, and noted that Perera’s aggression and confidence in his knee were evident during a strong fall camp.
Six years at CSU will leave Perera with a master’s degree in criminal justice come December. A Big South title and FCS playoff bid would be nice to take along as well.
“Us old guys, (Nathan) Prater and (Kevin) Glears, we’ve all been through a lot,” said Perera of his fellow sixth-year seniors. “We would love to go out our last year here with a nice pretty ring to put on the finger.”
On the cover: Charleston Southern's Nathan Perera took the high road when injuries kept him on the sidelines.
Video produced by Charleston Southern's Jeremy Sullivan