ATLANTA - It really didn't hit Senorise Perry that he was about to live out his childhood dream until the morning of Sept. 7.
Hours before the former Chattooga High School and Louisville University star would arrive at Soldier Field to play in his first regular-season game for the Chicago Bears, the undrafted rookie running back had a moment of reality.
"I really didn't take it in until the day of the first game," Perry said when asked how he celebrated the news he had made the NFL team's 53-man roster. "I woke up that day and took a deep breath, and it finally clicked to me that I was in the NFL."
It's been a long and not exactly drama-free road from Summerville, Ga., to the Windy City for Perry. A multisport star at Chattooga -- he made Best of Preps teams in football and basketball and was a state sprint champion -- the two-star recruit wasn't courted by in-state colleges, so when Louisville came in with a late offer he jumped on it.
After appearing in 23 games in his first two seasons for the Cardinals, Perry worked himself into a starting position as a junior and was leading the team with 705 yards and 11 touchdowns when he suffered a torn ACL in the 10th game of the season. He returned to get 700 more yards as a senior as he split time in the backfield, but despite good workouts for NFL teams his name wasn't called on draft week.
Even worse, he wasn't among the dozens of free agents signed in the days following the draft. That left one option: Hit the tryout circuit and hope to make an impression, if not for this year maybe the next.
Perry did even better than that. He was one of two players signed by the Bears after a May tryout, then stood out in minicamp. He excelled on special teams in exhibition games and sealed his roster spot with a strong final game. He came into Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons with three tackles, one forced fumble and two kickoff returns for 42 yards.
He added a tackle against the team he's always rooted for and nearly nailed former Bears star Devin Hester at the Falcons' 10 on a kickoff. He was still on cloud nine after the 27-13 Chicago win, though he was still thinking about that missed tackle.
"Man, I nearly got Devin Hester," he laughed as star running back Matt Forte snickered in the background. "I grew up a huge Falcons fan, so it was very exciting to come down here and play them. It's exciting to come from a small town like Summerville and play against a team I rooted so hard for."
Perry may be the 53rd man on a 53-man roster, but back home he's a superstar -- and not just because he's in the NFL.
"What Senorise has accomplished gives all our kids some hope," said Chattooga football coach Charles Hammon, who was an assistant when Perry played there. "They all know Senorise and it shows them anything can be done if you want to do it bad enough. He spent a good bit of time here this summer and ran with the kids and worked out. He's one of a kind, a special kid who has always done things the right way."
Perry admitted the biggest adjustment he's had to make is getting around Chicago, so he just keeps it simple.
"Chicago's a great city, but I've learned you can't get out and get stuck," he said with a laugh. "It's a whole lot bigger than Louisville and way bigger than Summerville. I like the country myself, so that's where I stay most of the time."
Of course, the job requires most of his time and Perry, like every NFL rookie, has had to earn his place in the locker room. He said his teammates, for the most part, don't ask too much of him.
"Sometimes I think, 'Gosh, I've got to do this or that for a veteran,' but then I take a deep breath and realize I'm just a rookie and I've got to do those things. It's nothing too bad. I have to carry their bags sometimes -- I have to carry Brandon Marshall's every other day -- but, hey, I'll never complain about it. This is my dream and I'm living it."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.