Chris Perry didn't look like a man who should have been exhausted. Nor did he sound like one whose coach once accused him of being selfish.
"Give me the ball 60 times or three times as long as we win," proclaimed the Michigan tailback after his school-record 51 carries for 221 yards and a touchdown in the Wolverines' 27-20 victory Nov. 1 at Michigan State.
When Michigan coach Lloyd Carr addressed the media after Perry that day, he wanted to know what his senior leader and resident character had said.
"I hope he wasn't complaining," cracked the usually staid Carr before adding, "Perry has the heart of a champion. I love that kid."
Perry, the recipient of the 2003 Tribune Silver Football honoring the Big Ten's most valuable player, has come a long way in both his development as one of the most complete football players in the nation as well as in his relationship with Carr.
Two years ago, the two were at a stalemate over what Carr perceived as Perry's self-centered attitude and Perry's desire to fulfill a potential he felt was being suppressed.
"There was never any question about his ability or his passion for the game," Carr said. "It was simply that he had a lot of things to learn like any young player, and he was competing for the job and felt like his role should be much different than what I felt he had earned.
"I said, 'Chris, this is the way it's going to be here, and I'm not going to change. We don't have a star system, we're not going to treat you differently than anyone else, so these are the things we expect you to be. And if you're not willing to do them, maybe you should look for a place to transfer.' But it wasn't exactly in those nice, calm tones. I was frustrated."
And so was Perry, who had gone through four years of military school and was ready to break free of the authority he believed was holding him back.
"I was very sensitive to any hint that I was not up to par in any area," Perry said. "And when he said 'You can transfer,' I felt he was letting me know I wasn't good enough to keep around."
And Perry admits if it wasn't for his mother, Irene Egerton Perry, who moved from tiny Advance, N.C., to Ann Arbor at the beginning of her son's junior year, he may not have stuck around.
"I just felt if he went to another school, it would be like quitting and would be one of those things where he'd always look back and say, 'If only I stayed.'" said his mother, who has been undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer diagnosed last summer. "I told Coach Carr and [running backs coach Fred] Jackson that I would support them as long as they didn't break his spirit because he was very, very confident about football."
So confident that ultimately, that was what persuaded him to stay.
"I think my trials and tribulations with Coach Carr really helped me become a better player," said Perry, who is on track to graduate in April. "I had to change, had to do something to prove him wrong. I felt like he was questioning my ability and I just wanted to prove everyone wrong. It ended up being a motivational tactic."
Anyone who knows Carr could guess it wasn't all that tactical.
"There was never any doubt that I thought he could be a very good football player," he said. "So I think once he bought into the things I was asking him to do, he became really fun to be around and to coach."
Carr said the light came on for Perry in late spring or early summer before an All-America junior season that Perry would cap by being named MVP of the Outback Bowl for his 108 yards receiving and 85 yards on the ground against Florida.
"I remember Fred Jackson called me into his office," Carr said, "and said, 'Lloyd look at this.' On the board, it said, 'You will never have to get on me or worry about me again,' and Chris had signed it. And honestly, from that moment, he never was a distraction again."
Perry, whom Carr said has developed into "a devastating pass blocker," is the nation's leader in average all-purpose yards per game at 162. He also has the Michigan record for receptions by a running back in a season with 42. But just as important to his blossoming into a complete player is his leadership.
"When he started this season, you could just feel his presence because of the emotion that emanates from him is so special," Carr said. "As a result, not only was he a great football player but a great leader and a great inspiration, because all the kids on the team knew what his mother was going through and what he was going through. He inspired all of us."
Though she said her prognosis is positive, Irene Perry must undergo three more sessions of chemotherapy before radiation and a possible mastectomy. She will accompany her son to the Heisman Trophy ceremony this weekend and to the Rose Bowl.
"I hear the pundits say Michigan doesn't have a chance against USC and I think it's good they're saying that," his mother said. "I know if Christopher hears that, he'll just say, 'OK, here we go again.'"Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times