TUSCALOOSA — A roar erupted from the Bryant-Denny Stadium crowd as the ball boomed off Ty Perine’s foot and soared through the crisp night air.
With every 10 yards further that the ball traveled — all 62 yards from kick to catch — the roar got louder, reaching touchdown-worthy decibels 4 ½ seconds later when it landed into the waiting hands of Tennessee punt returner Marquez Callaway around the 12-yard line.
But as Callaway sidestepped a tackle attempt from Henry Ruggs III at about the 15 and then another 10 yards later from snapper Thomas Fletcher, Perine knew there was no time to bask in his moment. There was still a play to be made.
Stepping up into Callaway’s direct line of sight as the lone inhibitor between him and a touchdown, the 190-pound freshman walk-on punter from Prattville set his feet and lowered his shoulders to absorb the blow of Callaway’s momentum.
Perine’s hit did its job, standing up the speedy Callaway at the 32-yard line and allowing Ruggs and several other teammates to pile onto Callaway at the 34.
Fletcher was the first to greet Perine, helping up his fellow specialist from beneath the dogpile as junior tight end Miller Forristall came over for a congratulatory slap on the helmet.
“Oh, it was awesome. Actually, he made the tackle, and I was supposed to be there,” Forristall admitted Monday. “I actually covered the wrong way, and (special teams coordinator Jeff) Banks came to me, and was like, ‘Hey, remember how I drew up that nice graphic, and you were supposed to be in the middle?’ And I was like, ‘Ohhhh.’ And he said, ‘Yes, the punter made the tackle. And dropped the bomb.’ But I was super happy for him.”
Perine’s punt and tackle were two of the top plays in the 35-13 win, which also included Ruggs chasing down a Tennessee defensive back on an interception return despite a 10-yard head start and a 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Alabama cornerback Trevon Diggs.
Making his first career appearance in the second half Saturday, after a first-half injury to fellow freshman kicker/punter Will Reichard, Perine certainly impressed with a pair of third-quarter punts that traveled 42- and 51-yards, respectively.
“It’s exciting. Any guy on the team, whenever they get an opportunity, you want them to make the best of it,” Ruggs said Monday, “and that’s something we preach — whoever it is, whenever it’s time to go, you got to do what you got to do. (And) for him to go and get two big kicks, and for him to make that tackle, that was big.”
But it was his willingness to sacrifice his body on the play that had fans and teammates buzzing even days later.
“I didn’t expect that. He came up near leg, near shoulder and really hit the returner,” senior safety Jared Mayden said Monday of Perine’s hit. “I know I was jumping up and down when I came out on the field, and I know a lot of people on defense were slapping him on the head. I wasn’t expecting that. I think that might be one of the best things I’ve seen in a minute.”
Alabama junior outside linebacker Terrell Lewis added: “(Perine) came with bad intentions though, I like how he came downhill.”
It even had his former coaches celebrating from their living rooms back in Prattville.
“It wasn't real pretty, but he got him down. He stuck him,” Prattville coach Caleb Ross said Monday. “It wasn't a kicker tackle, where you try to trip him up. He went in and put his body on him. He was fearless, I give him that.”
Before Saturday, Perine — the first African-American to punt at Alabama since quarterback Walter Lewis quick-kicked in the early 1980s — was just another nameless walk-on among the Crimson Tide's litany of four- and five-star talents that generally litter its roster.
But after Saturday, the former Prattville football and soccer star has become a fan favorite, especially to an Alabama fan base that groaned with each disappointing kick or punt that came before him after being spoiled by four years of JK Scott.
Seven games into the season, Alabama is second-to-last nationally averaging 35.94 yards on 16 punts — and its 575 total punt yards ranks dead-last in the FBS, 35 yards fewer than Air Force with one less punt.
Which makes Perine’s 46.5-yard per punt average Saturday a welcomed sight around Tuscaloosa.
For Perine, it’s further proof of what many around Prattville knew he was capable of when he bet on himself by accepting a preferred walk-on opportunity at Alabama over a scholarship at Army.
“(Alabama) gave him the invited walk-on, (and) in their mind, it's a tryout,” Ross said. “(But) if he gets consistent, he can kick on Sundays. I haven't been around that many punters, but when he kicked the ball, it sounded different and it looked different.”
That difference was certainly evident to Perine’s Tide teammates, including the much-ballyhooed scholarship players that have grown to appreciate the work put in by their non-scholarship compatriots.
“Guys like that inspire you to go harder because they chose to do this on top of everything else that they have going into this sport,” Lewis said. “They chose to deal with the discipline, going to class. Putting up with the stuff that we kind of complain about at times, so it kind of makes you not take it for granted."
Added Mayden: “That’s always extraordinary to see because walk-ons, a lot of people don’t really think about them or you kind of discard them, but they are part of the team. … And then when he made that hit, … to have a punter that wasn’t scared and he actually came in there and tried to stop the returner, that just speaks volumes for him.”