For years, fans of all sports have gotten some of their biggest thrills by rooting for the underdogs. Buster Douglas, Kurt Warner and Larry Owings, just to name a few, have produced some of the greatest stories and memories in sports history. You can now add Carl Perry to that list.
Perry, a 141-pounder at the University of Illinois, won the national championship as the eighth seed, defeating the first, second and third seeds along the road. For Perry, the win became even more special because of the fact that practically nobody expected him to win.
"It made it a little more personal," he said with a humble voice. "Now I can look at everyone and stick my tongue out at them."
For Perry, anything short of a national title would have been a disappointment. The winningest wrestler in Virginia high school history, 162-13, came into Illinois and had to adjust to a college atmosphere immediately.
Perry posted a 20-win season in his rookie campaign, and placed fourth at the Big Ten Championships, and even though he did not win a match at the NCAA Championships, he feels his freshman season was valuable.
"I was happy with how it went. I learned a lot that year, with adjusting to the different training," Perry stated. "The biggest thing with the learning experience was coming in for my sophomore year. I felt completely prepared for what I was going to have to do to be an All-American."
And Perry learned well, because in just his second year, he showed more signs of improvement. His win total increased to 25, he placed seventh at the Big Ten Championships, but earned All-American honors with a seventh-place finish at the NCAA Championships. The stage was now set for Perry to compete for a national title.
"The expectations were really high. My expectations were to be a National Champ. Going into my junior year, I knew I was at least going to be an All-American for the team, and that was a humbling, eye-opening experience," he said.
Perry began to look ahead in his junior year, though, and because of this, his date with the NCAA Finals was delayed. He struggled throughout the season, showing great inconsistencies. His third-place finish at the Big Ten Championships gave him a ray of hope, one that was soon shut at the NCAA Championships. After winning his first two matches, he lost he lost his following two, and was knocked out of the very tournament that he was supposed to at least place in.
"I went into my senior year thinking I was going to be a national champ, instead of taking the next step of being an All-American again. Looking ahead of the schedule, yes I did, without a doubt," he said.
The losses devastated Perry, but he never let it get him down.
"It was shattering. In the sport of wrestling, you put in so much time and so much hard work, and its day after day. The tears, the crying, the sweat and the blood - that's all involved in the sport of wrestling, and you don't place in the top eight in the country - you're not even noticed," he said. "I put so much time and effort into it, and there is nothing to show for it."
"I don't think I ever questioned my ability. I knew I was capable of doing it, but saying it and doing it are two different things."
Perry's senior season did not exactly go as planned either. He was pinned for the first time in his career by Florian Ghinea. He lost major decisions to Mark Angle and Doug Schwab, although he came back to beat Angle again at the Midlands and the NCAA semifinals. But for Perry, it was the loss to Schwab that made him realize he was not where he needed to be to achieve his goal, in this, his last season.
"At that time I didn't wrestle him well. That was another humbling, eye-opening experience," he stated. "When Schwab gets going, nobody's going to stop him."
Perry would get another chance at Schwab in the Big Ten semifinals. This time, the match would be a lot closer. In fact, the match went into overtime when Perry appeared to score the winning takedown, but the official ruled both competitors out of bounds. After points were scored the match went into a tiebreaker, where Schwab came out on top, but a seed was planted then.
"If the score was close, and I still had some kick into me, and I wasn't falling down dead tired, that I could win the match, and I think a lot of people saw that," Perry said. "Basically when I was training for the (NCAA) tournament, I was training for Schwab."
Even though he was disappointed following the loss, Perry knew that he now had a good chance of being a National Champion.
At the NCAA Championships, Perry received the eighth seed, which avoiding all upsets, put him in prime position for a rematch with Schwab in the quarterfinal round.
"Avoid Doug Schwab? There was no way I was going to avoid him. It was kind of a gutcheck time. I was able to prove myself," he said.
Perry came away with a win over Schwab, then the victory over Angle before defeating second-seeded Michael Lightner for the title he had craved for so long.
"It (the win) was overwhelming, especially with the road I had to take. I don't know if its even really hit me yet," he said. "It's more of a closure type of deal. I've accomplished everything that I wanted to accomplish. I've had some of the worst times I've ever had in my entire life, with cutting weight or losing it, continually losing to Schwab or not placing, but it was all worth it."
When thinking of the phrase 'Carl Perry - National Champion', Perry just laughed and said "That's just one of the greatest things."
"I was a little disappointed that I would never have the opportunity to be a Big 10 Champ, but when you win the National title, it just covers all areas of wrestling."
The win was satisfying for Perry, who had struggled with injuries throughout his career. He tore cartilage in his knee during his freshman season, tore his right MCL his sophomore year and his left MCL his junior year. Perry says the injuries have caused his career to be a roller coaster.
After Perry's win, he was flown back to Virginia for a celebration. A local restaurant held a party for him, the next night, he was honored and given an award at a banquet.
Perry is now done wrestling. After 15 years, he his hanging up his singlet and headgear. He plans to graduate from Illinois in two semesters with a degree in Sports Management. He has possible internships lined up with the Indianapolis Colts and the Cleveland Indians.
"I'm retired," Perry says clearly. "I would like to stay at Illinois. That is in the works right now."
Staying at Illinois might be the best thing for Perry at this time. He has great relationships with the coaching staff and the current wrestlers.
"Me and (Illinois Head Coach) Mark (Johnson) have been through a lot. He is an exceptional guy," he said. "One thing about Mark is that he takes care of his guys. Even when he didn't necessarily agree with me, or when I was losing and wasn't helping the team that well, he made sure I was doing well in school and things like that. He would be the first one to stand right beside me."
Perry also concedes how much the support of his family means to him.
"I've got a great family. My mom was at NCAA's. My dad is unable to travel, but he is at home wrestling every match with me. I have two older brothers who would give their arms and legs just to see me succeed."
It would seem obvious that after a career, like this, Perry would want to change a lot if he could, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
"I don't know if I would change anything at all. Everything seemed to fall in place for me," he said. "If I could change anything, I would not hold back as much as I did at a younger age."