Minium: He's a late comer to wrestling, but Steve Martin says ODU's Sa'Derian Perry could win an NCAA title
By ODU Athletics
By Harry Minium
Sa’Derian Perry received the ominous text message a day after he returned from Cleveland, Ohio, where he had stood on the podium and been pronounced an All-American at the NCAA national wrestling tournament.
Perry was perhaps the feel-good story of the event. He went into the nationals with a 15-16 record, but won his way to the quarterfinals and finished eighth nationally.
Not bad for a guy who grew up playing baseball and football and didn’t give wrestling a thought until he was in the ninth grade. He took up the sport at Lake Gibson High in Lakeland, Fla. at midseason only because his best friend needed someone to work out with.
He won a state title as a senior, but because of his late start – most elite wrestlers take up the sport in grade school – he had just one scholarship offer.
Perry accepted that offer and enrolled at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Mich., nearly 1,600 miles north of his hometown. And from personal experience I can tell you Ypsilanti is one of the coldest places in America.
“I stayed inside a lot,” he said with a smile.
But back to the text. He and his wrestling teammates all received the same message on Monday – come to a mandatory meeting tomorrow.
And the news was devastating. Eastern Michigan had dropped wrestling, along with three other sports.
ODU wrestling this weekend:
Friday, Southern Illinois, 7 p.m. Ted Constant Center
Sunday, Duke, 1 p.m., Ted Constant Center
Sa'Derian Perry transferred to ODU after Eastern Michigan dropped wrestling.
The rest of his spring semester was a blur. He and his teammates were eligible to transfer and become eligible immediately, so he be began shopping around. His teammates spread all around the nation from the University of Oklahoma to Ohio University and half a dozen points in between.
Perry scheduled visits to Minnesota, Iowa and Southern Illinois. Then, after he got a call from Old Dominion coach Steve Martin, and a strong recommendation about Martin from high school coach, Daniel Walker, he also scheduled a visit to Norfolk.
“I hadn’t planned to come here, but when Steve called, I decided to give it a look,” he said. “I came here and liked it, so I committed.”
His transition wasn’t fluid. He enrolled in summer school to catch up academically, in part because he changed majors when he transferred. And for the second time in three years, he arrived at a new school where he didn’t know anybody.
“It was a blow,” he said. “But you can’t worry about things you can’t control. You can only move forward. That’s what most of us did, we just moved forward.”
He stays in touch with his old teammates, texting to talking to each of them weekly.
“We’re still close,” he said. “We always will be.”
ODU’s academic advising staff worked hard to help him during the transition and he had a 3.75 grade-point-average in the fall semester.
“He was student athlete of the month at Old Dominion,” Martin said. “I told his high school coach that and he was surprised.
“Sa’Derian embraced things academically in a big way here.”
Sa'Derian Perry is 16-4 so far this season wrestling at 141 pounds for ODU.
He’s also embraced wrestling in a huge way. Wrestling at 141 pounds, he’s 16-4 and claimed a major victory on Jan. 12 in the Virginia Duals when he upset seventh-ranked Dom Demas from Oklahoma, 4-3.
Martin says that Perry can win a national championship, and that’s quite a comment coming from a guy who was an All-American at Iowa, won three state championships at Kempsville High and as a coach, led Great Bridge High to 12 state championships in 13 seasons.
“Sa’Derian is capable of beating anyone in his weight class,” said Martin, the son of the late Billy Martin Sr., who won 22 state titles in 23 years of coaching at Norfolk’s Granby High School.
“He has the ability. Is he favored? Hell no. But when he beat Demas, he beat a kid that’s kid who was on the world team.”
What makes Perry so good, and at times unpredictable, is that he’s relatively new to wrestling. If you haven’t taken up the sport by the time your ten or 12, you have so much to learn.
When he was a ninth grader, his coach only taught him two moves – a double-leg takedown and a cradle.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” he said.
Nonetheless, during his sophomore season he went to the state tournament and lost in the state finals as a junior.
He didn’t lose a match as a senior.
ODU wrestling coach Steve Martin said Sa'Derian Perry could win a national championship
“So many kids get into wrestling early,” Martin said. “Some of our kids have been in the sports for so long, there’s nothing more we can teach them. They know it all. It’s a matter of working hard, taking care of yourself and having a tough attitude.
“With Sa’Derian, he’s still learning. And the thing is, he likes to learn. He’s getting better all the time.
“He doesn’t necessarily love to run or lift weights. But he really loves wrestling.”
And he’s got a ton of confidence. He said he didn’t celebrate all that much when he won a high school state title.
“Honestly, I was used to winning,” he said with a shrug. “I’ve always won, in (youth) football and baseball. I expect to win.
“When I won a state title, I just added it to all of my Little League trophies.”
He has the attitude of a wrestling champion, Martin said.
“Winning at the NCAA tournament, that’s a hard thing,” Martin said. “You’ve got to be tough. You can have all of the technique in the world, but it takes toughness. Either you’re born with it or you don’t have it.”
Clearly, Perry has it.