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Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s Skyler Perry preps for Legacy Bowl with child’s future in mind

Becoming a father in 2019 amplified quarterback’s hunger to play in the NFL

As a standout quarterback at Edna Karr High School in New Orleans, Skyler Perry always wanted to experience football at a historically Black college or university. Now he’s about to represent the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, his alma mater, on a national stage.

On Saturday, Perry will participate in the HBCU Legacy Bowl, an exhibition for the best HBCU football players eligible for the NFL draft, in his hometown of New Orleans. He also showcased his skills Monday at the HBCU Combine in Metairie, Louisiana.

“I see this as another lane to get better as always on a day-to-day basis and show my true colors on the field,” Perry said. “I want to show scouts that I’m more than capable of becoming an NFL player.”

Arkansas-Pine Bluff quarterback Skyler Perry runs the 40-yard dash Feb. 20 during the HBCU Combine at the New Orleans Saints training facility in Metairie, Louisiana.

Matthew Hinton/AP Photo

The 6-foot-3, left-handed quarterback categorizes himself as a dual-threat playmaker and field general. Though Perry is focused on displaying his accuracy, agility, speed and decision-making during the Legacy Bowl, he also is looking to explore the world of business; he has his résumé ready to go for the HBCU Legacy Bowl Career Fair, designed to expose HBCU athletes and students to job opportunities.

“What I love about the Legacy Bowl is that they want to help us grow in every aspect of life including football, and that’s what it’s all about,” Perry said.

After winning two state championships with Edna Karr, as Perry considered where to further his education and start his collegiate football career, Arkansas-Pine Bluff emerged as one of his top choices. A conversation with Tyrin Ralph, a high school teammate who had gone on to play at the historically Black university, helped Perry decide to commit to the Golden Lions.

“I instilled to Skyler that the experience, expectation and what we’ve been through together at Edna Karr is no different [at Arkansas-Pine Bluff],” Ralph said.

In 2018, an injury to first-string Arkansas-Pine Bluff quarterback Shannon Patrick opened the door for Perry to become a starter for the Golden Lions as a freshman. He finished his debut season with 1,748 passing yards and eight touchdowns. 

After the season ended, Perry faced a new responsibility: On Feb. 6, 2019, his daughter Saige was born.

Skyler Perry with daughter Saige. “Saige and I’s support system was very much a plus in raising her, because it does take a village and her village was always there when needed,” he said.

Skyler Perry

As offseason training began for Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Perry made a commitment to himself to be the best father possible to his child. He set aside a few weeks of conditioning and went home to New Orleans to support his child’s mother and transition into dad mode.

As a young father, Perry leaned on his mother, Dianca Perry, Saige’s grandmother, Shantell Dobard, and Saige’s mother, Roydasha Dobard.

“Saige and I’s support system was very much a plus in raising her, because it does take a village and her village was always there when needed,” Perry said.

Though Perry’s daughter stayed in New Orleans with his family to allow him to focus on school and football, he took advantage of every chance to see Saige’s smile on FaceTime calls or listen to her voice through the phone to counter the distance.

Inspired by his daughter, Perry started the fall 2019 season hungry to maximize every opportunity to give her a good life. He played behind Patrick, completing 59 of 110 passing attempts for 784 yards and helping Arkansas-Pine Bluff secure its first winning season since 2012. After the 2020 season was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, in the spring of 2021 Perry helped lead the Golden Lions to a Southwestern Athletic Conference Western Division championship. That season, he also led Arkansas-Pine Bluff in rushing yards (216) and passing yards (1,236).

“Being his teammate during the spring season was special, because he had a lot of crazy plays that you wouldn’t see any other player in the SWAC even attempt to do,” said Mark Evans II, Perry’s teammate.

The confidence Perry gained in the spring 2021 season carried over to the fall, when he threw for 1,786 passing yards. He passed for 100 yards or more in all but two games of his 2022 season, totaling 1,372 passing yards.

“Skyler’s playing ability was one of the main reasons why we were SWAC Western Division champs in that spring [2021] season,” said former Arkansas-Pine Bluff football coach Doc Gamble. “His ability to beat you [offensively] with his legs, his arm, but more importantly his mind, is what makes this kid so special.”

For Perry, being a quarterback means more than just playing football; it also means being a leader inside the locker room, at school functions and in the community. His positive attitude and character compel staff and players to naturally gravitate to him, Gamble said.

“He was always the guy I counted on to speak when something needed to be said, but he always led by example, which was most important to me,” Gamble said. “From the first day he stepped foot on the field, he was never too high or too low and always at the right temperature with his emotions, which made our jobs easier as coaches.”

Former Arkansas-Pine Bluff star Terron Armstead, an offensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins, will serve as an honorary captain at the HBCU Legacy Bowl. Perry said he hopes to become the next Golden Lion to make it to the NFL so he can give his daughter the life she deserves.

“This is something I want not for just myself but for my child also, because at the end of the day this is something way bigger than me,” Perry said. 

Kalan Hooks is a part of ESPN’s Next Program. He hails from Kansas City, Missouri, and is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. He loves all things HBCUs and the dark HBCU marching band sound, and he still gets buckets in his spare time.