Hartselle assistant football coach Jesse Perrin hopes his team understands the importance of Friday’s game with Decatur.

“The records for both teams aren’t what they usually are,” Perrin said, “but this is Hartselle-Decatur. The records won’t matter. Decatur will play its best game of the season against Hartselle. We had better bring our best game.”

If anybody understands the Decatur vs. Hartselle rivalry, it’s Perrin. He played for the Red Raiders. This is his sixth season as an assistant coach at Hartselle.

“When I played at Decatur, we had two games we circled on the schedule,” Perrin said. “One was Austin. The other was Hartselle.”

In 2005, Perrin was a senior and the Decatur starting quarterback. He led the Red Raiders to a 21-6 win over Hartselle.

“I was always the chubby kid that played tight end,” Perrin said. “The June before our senior season, Coach (Jere) Adcock asked if I was interested in moving to quarterback.”

Adam Riley had been the quarterback in Perrin’s class, but Adcock wanted him at safety.

“Our first game against Athens was when the light came on,” Perrin said. “I am a laid-back type person, but when I played quarterback, I had a different personality. When we won our first three games by just eight points. I thought we might be onto something special, and we won our first nine games.”

Perrin never lost to Hartselle in his three years on the varsity at Decatur. Since he’s been an assistant coach at Hartselle, the Tigers have won twice in five games.

The Hartselle game was also a career turning point for another Perrin 30 years before Jesse played quarterback in the game. It was a sophomore quarterback named Benny Perrin.

One of the first chapters in a storybook athletic career was when the sophomore quarterback led the Red Raiders to a 7-0 overtime win over Hartselle in 1975. The game-winner was a three-yard pass on fourth down from Perrin to Joe Kucera.

The season started with Benny playing on defense at safety. He filled in at quarterback in the Hartselle game when the starter was injured.

In Benny’s junior season, Decatur lost to Hartselle, 6-0, in overtime. In his senior season, Decatur beat Hartselle, 26-0. He was a Super All-State selection in 1977 before playing on two national championship teams at Alabama for Bear Bryant. He played four seasons in the NFL with the St. Louis Cardinals.

On Feb. 3, 2017, Benny took his own life after battling Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE, a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma. He was 57.

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Life after football

“I was born in 1987, the year after Dad retired from the NFL,” Jesse said. “So I never got to watch him play. Dad had a video made with highlights from when he played at Bama and in the NFL. I must have watched it 30-something times over the years.”

After his football career ended, Benny’s attention turned to B.B. Perrins Sports Grille. The combination of the food, sports memorabilia and Benny has made the place a Decatur landmark for over 30 years.

“We grew up at Perrins. I have a lot of happy memories from there,” Jesse said. “All our family birthday parties were there. I remember how Dad was always willing to spend time talking with customers and signing autographs."

When Jesse got old enough work there, he started out washing dishes before eventually moving up to preparing food. Since Benny’s death, he’s been back to Perrins just one time.

"There's just a lot of memories there," Jesse said.

There are also memories when Jesse played for the Red Raiders. He said there was no question that he would follow Benny's path and play for the Red Raiders.

“My Dad never told me I had to play football,” Jesse said. “It was just that growing up, football was a big part of our lives. We would go to Alabama games or we would just watch games on TV together. I knew I always wanted to play football. Dad was always my No. 1 fan.”

After high school, Jesse played baseball two years at Calhoun. He graduated from Alabama in 2011 with an education degree. He coached one year at Shades Valley before moving to Hartselle, where he also coached freshman baseball for several seasons.

“When I got the job at Hartselle, I told Dad I needed some coaching help,” Jesse said. “He wanted to help, but he insisted on having some Hartselle baseball gear. He even wore it at the restaurant. I think some people didn't know what to think about that.”

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Hidden issues

A large number of former NFL players have been diagnosed with or have had CTE. A definitive diagnosis so far can be made only after death. An increasing number of former players are reporting symptoms of CTE. In 2013, the NFL reportedly reached a settlement with around 4,500 former players or their estates.

“I knew about concussions in football, but I didn’t know anything about CTE until after Dad died,” Jesse said. “Up until the last couple of months, he was able to hide it from us. I had never noticed any symptoms of something being wrong.

“Since he died, I have learned a lot about CTE. I watched the CTE movie (“Concussion” starring Will Smith). I never thought of anything like that going on with him. He was a tough player and played through all kinds of injuries. That’s football.”

Jesse and his wife Anna Marie have three children. His son Brooks is 4 and daughter Charleigh is 2. Son Lincoln was born on Monday.

“If my sons ever wanted to play football, I would let them,” Jesse said. “I like the flag football program they have in Hartselle. Kids shouldn’t be wearing shoulder pads until they are in the seventh or eighth grade.

“I like the way they teach the game now. It’s a lot safer. Instead of tackling with your head, you tackle with your shoulder. Obviously, there is still a chance of injury, but the game is safer. It has to be or kids will stop playing.”

One thing Jesse plans to do with his sons is to one day show them the video of their grandfather.

“They need to know that he played at Alabama for Bear Bryant and in the NFL,” Jesse said. “They need to know how amazing he was.”

 david.elwell@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2395. Twitter @DD_DavidElwell.

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