Army veteran provides leadership for COC football

Kjell Perry, a U.S. Army veteran, enrolled at College of the Canyons and joined the football team. Perry poses for a portrait outside the COC gym on August 29, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Kjell Perry has served in the United States Army. He spent nearly a year in Afghanistan as a medic. He’s seen death and saved lives.

But he was nervous when he first walked into the College of the Canyons football offices.

“(The coaches) were all sitting in their circle talking,” Perry says. “I don’t know what they were talking about, but they were just talking. So I was a little intimidated, and I was like, ‘Oh man. I’ve never been in this position before with football.’”

But all it took for Perry to join the Cougar football program was one sentence:

“I want to play football.”

The decision to add Perry to the roster was nearly instantaneous for COC football coach Ted Iacenda and his staff.

“Of course, right away, we want that kid in our program because he’s going to be a great kid, a leader, someone for the other kids to learn from,” Iacenda says.

Perry is expected to take on a larger role on defense for COC this year. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Perry played football in high school for Colville High, which is in the northeast corner of Washington. After graduating in 2008, he joined the Army.

He trained to be a medic and was initially stationed in Fort Polk, Louisiana. In 2011, he began a 10-month deployment in Afghanistan with an infantry unit.

When he completed his service in 2014, Perry had difficulty adjusting to civilian life. Gone was his regimented, scheduled routine.

“I got stuck, like, being anxious, being depressed, not knowing if I was succeeding, what I would do, how I was going to succeed, and I kind of just lost my way for a little while,” he says. “For about a year and a half, two years maybe, I lost my way. And then I was just like, I want to play football.”

He was introduced to COC through a friend of a friend who played community college football in Southern California. Perry had difficulties getting in touch with someone from the football program, but decided to enroll at Canyons, then join the team later.

“I just came straight down here and I was like, ‘I’m going to do it,’” Perry says.

After securing a spot on the team, it was time to get back to football, a sport Perry hadn’t played seriously in about seven years.

Although he saw himself as “really rusty,” Iacenda felt Perry adapted quickly.

“I think when you have that type of work ethic, football is easy,” says the coach. “What we do in the weight room, what we do conditioning wise, that’s the hard part here. … And he obviously was used to that from his military background.”

Perry originally was at running back, but moved to linebacker once the coaching staff saw his physical style of play.

Last season, he had five tackles (five solo) in 10 games as a freshman. He’s expected to have an increased role this year.

His teammates have benefitted from the move to defense as well.

“I feel he’s taken a real leadership role especially because he plays on the defensive side,” says Jarrin Pierce, a wide receiver. “The way he talks to me, he’s basically trying to raise my game. … From him, I take it as a learning opportunity because I know he’s probably been through it and he’s probably been through way more things than I’ve been through.”

Perry is studying computer science and physics at COC and has hopes of transferring to a four-year school to continue his studies and, hopefully, to continue playing football – a sport he feels has paralleled his life in a major way.

“Football is definitely a battle,” he says. “It’s toned down quite a bit, but there’s definitely equivalences.

“It is a battle, you’re going to get hurt, you’re going to see people get hurt. You’re playing for 10 other guys out on the field, you’re not playing for yourself. I think that’s kind of why I like it.”


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