It was a whirlwind NFL Draft Weekend for Andover’s EJ Perry and his family. Then again, would he have had it any other way? Football has been in the bloodlines in the Perry family for generations. A generational foundation that now takes EJ to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The family gatherings, most notably the storied Fourth of July celebrations in Hampton Beach, NH, date back more than 80 years. “Cousin Camp” has stood the test of time, gathering kids of all ages under one roof. Rooted in laughter and camaraderie, the Perry family convenes for the fun of it. They find joy in each other’s company and love competing.
Inevitably, the conversation always turns to football – unavoidable when four coaches, a bunch of baseball players and an aspiring pro quarterback start swapping stories.
E.J. Perry IV has taken the next step toward fulfilling his dream. The former Andover High School standout, who began his college career at Boston College and finished at Brown University, recently signed a contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars and hopes to follow in the footsteps of Tony Romo, Warren Moon and Kurt Warner.
Each of those quarterbacks made a lasting impression in the NFL as undrafted free agents.
In two seasons at Brown, Perry threw for 5,981 yards and 45 touchdowns, enjoying prolific offensive success despite the Bears’ struggles to win games.
E.J.’s road to the pros has been paved by many coaches, but none as influential as the trio with Perry blood flowing through their veins. The group includes his dad, E.J. III, the head coach at Andover, his Uncle James, the head coach at Brown, and his Uncle John, now the offensive coordinator at Sam Houston State, who previously coached as an assistant with the Houston Texans.
“Being surrounded by coaches, being the son of a coach, you understand what annoys a coach and you’re able to operate in that sense,” said E.J. IV. “When I was eight or nine years old, I could sense when my dad was stressed out about his team. I knew how NOT to stress coaches out.”
As the draft approached, rumors swirled and speculation was rampant about where, and if, E.J. would be drafted. The tension was real and everyone in the family had to take a deep breath.
“My wife was trying to tell me to sit back and enjoy the ride,” said E.J.’s Dad, E.J. III. “But obviously, you have a little bit of angst as you’re going along. He’s done everything you can hope you can do – great Shrine game, great Combine, great Pro Day. I have to do what I told him to do when he played for me, which is just shut out the distractions.”
After the 2021 season, E.J. IV was invited to play in the East-West Shrine Game, an annual showcase of prospective NFL talent. He immediately made an impression on the coaching staff in Nevada.
“Two days in, he got an invite to the NFL Combine,” said Uncle James, E.J.’s coach at Brown. “It was obvious how hard a worker he is. Then the coaching staff made him captain. The game was just gravy.”
It turns out, some of the best gravy E.J. ever tasted. He threw three touchdown passes and was named MVP, despite his team losing 25-24.
The performance solidified what many NFL executives already believed. Perry will make a solid pro.
A FOCUSED STUDENT
“E.J. is like an extension of the coaching staff when he’s on the field,” said Sean Stellato, Perry’s agent and the founder and principal of SES Sports. “He’s able to see things and process things other players can’t process because he’s lived with coaches and been immersed in football his whole life. That will serve him very well in the league.”
Uncle John was always there for advice and his access to NFL players and coaches paid off. Former Texans head coach Bill O’Brien has Massachusetts roots and always took care of the Perry family.
“He was able to learn from Deshaun Watson and, back in the day, Ryan Fitzpatrick when I was in Houston,” said Uncle John. “To be in those quarterback rooms and ask questions and just soak up the knowledge. It’s what makes him unique.”
“He was doing a zoom interview during the draft process with an NFL coach who asked him to diagram a play on the board,” said E.J. III. “He told the coach, ‘You’re the only team who has the running back go right over center,’ and the coach said, ‘No we don’t.’
“Then the coach looked at the play in the playbook and said, ‘Damn intern! Screwed that up.’ The team’s intern had diagrammed the play incorrectly in the playbook, but E.J. noticed that nuance and was able to point it out.”
“In terms of ‘being a coach on the field,’ there’s plenty of guys like that who aren’t sons of coaches,” said E.J. IV. “That’s more from preparation and taking the coach’s message and relaying that. The more guys you have on a team like that, the better the team usually is.”
Preparation has made Perry who he is, both on the field and in the classroom. He earned an undergraduate degree in sociology from Brown, taking advantage of a work ethic that became evident when he played for Dad at Andover High.
“We had very long days because film was never off,” said E.J. III. “The film was always present. My wife would come in and say, ‘That’s enough. You go grade some papers and let him do his homework.’”
Kathleen Curtin Perry, E.J.’s mom, may have laid down the hammer sometimes, but she has fully embraced the journey and provided the support that was needed for her son to succeed at a high level.
“I knew he had very special athletic talent from a very young age,” said Kathleen. “Loving him and supporting him, I was 100% in. He always had drive to do his best and bring it as far as he could. My brothers all played Division One baseball. My dad, my grandfather, they played baseball in college. I knew what it took so I believed what my husband was doing was right from a very young age.”
“She’s been unbelievable,” said E.J. IV. “She made everything tick. Everything was made possible by her and she’s been an unbelievable support through college. It’s nice to have someone there who’s more worried about the type of person I am and things that are happening off the field.”
E.J.’s success at the high school level was legendary. He threw 114 career touchdown passes and led the Andover offense to an average of 42 points per game as a senior. Fans will always talk about the time he threw for 636 yards in a playoff game against Central Catholic, or when he capped his high school career by throwing seven TD passes against archrival North Andover on Thanksgiving Day.
Two weeks prior to that fitting finale, the Golden Warriors squared off against a powerhouse Everett team in the Division I North final.
“There were three guys on the NFL Draft board this year from that game, which doesn’t happen that often in Massachusetts,” said E.J. III. “Everett had two. Lewis Cine was a defensive back, Isaiah Likely was a receiver. He’s a tight end now. And then, there was E.J. Quite a game!”
Cine was selected by the Vikings in the first round and Likely was chosen by the Ravens in round four.
After Perry tied the state record for touchdown passes in a season when he threw 47 as a senior, it was almost a given he would attend Boston College if the Eagles offered a scholarship. A long line of Perrys and Curtins attended BC, including his mom and five of her siblings. It was his dream school and the dream became reality when coach Steve Addazio added E.J. to his 2017 recruiting class.
AN UNPREDICTABLE PATH
E.J. saw limited action in two seasons, stuck behind Anthony Brown on the QB depth chart, and faced a life decision – continue his education at BC with a seemingly sparse chance to play regularly or head somewhere else to finish his collegiate career?
He made the decision to transfer and zeroed in on a final four, including Holy Cross, Villanova and Harvard. There was a special draw, though, just 45 miles south of Chestnut Hill. Uncle James had just taken over as head coach at Brown University. Not only would E.J.’s education be top notch, he’d once again play for a trusted family member.
“I really did not want him to feel pressured to come play for his uncle, as bad as I wanted to coach him,” said James. “He’s such a great player, and I did think it was the right thing to do, but I didn’t want him to do it because I was his uncle. I wanted him to do it because he felt it was the right thing to do academically and the right thing on the field.”
“I tried to make a decision that was separate from him being my uncle,” said E.J. “He has an unbelievable track record with quarterbacks who played in the Ivy League. He called me and said, ‘I’m a fan of yours no matter where you go. There’s no sweat off my back if you choose somewhere else. I’m still your uncle. I’ll still love you and cheer for you.’”
Looking back, it seems E.J.’s mind was already made up.
“I hung up the phone and I texted him about fifteen minutes later and said, ‘I’m coming and I’m ready to go.’”
When E.J. joined the team at Brown, it didn’t take long for him to make an impression.
“I can remember the moment to the T,” said James. “It was our second practice together and he pulled the ball on one of our read-option plays and he took off down the sideline. The speed that he possesses is next-level. It happened that fast! He had a lot of work to do learning the playbook and he did that over time, but in showing his teammates how he’s a tenacious practicer, he began to change how we practice and alter the intensity with which we practice.”
People outside the program wondered if E.J. would still have a chance to turn pro, but the inner circle never doubted opportunity would come knocking.
“The reason why is this. If you play well, they’re going to find you anyway,” said James. “I told him he’d still have everything at his access, but he’d be in a position where we’d have to put a lot of the offense through him. Other schools wouldn’t have had to put so much of the offense through one player.”
THE PAY OFF
E.J. welcomed the heavy load, finally getting a chance to shine as the unquestioned starter. Just as Uncle James said, the scouts found him and liked what they saw. E.J.’s performance earned valuable invitations to the East/West Shrine Game and the NFL Combine. He continued to turn heads at his Pro Day in Worcester and his stock continued to rise.
When the draft ended and Perry was still available, there was a rush of activity. He agreed to terms with Philadelphia, and along with Stellato celebrated with hundreds of friends and family donning an Eagles cap. It soon became clear Philly had also agreed to terms with another rookie QB, Carson Strong, and E.J. re-evaluated his options.
Jacksonville had always shown interest and the Jaguars were ready to pounce. There’s no question Perry will benefit from the knowledge of Doug Pederson, a former NFL QB and Super Bowl-winning coach, along with a staff that includes Press Taylor, Mike McCoy and Jim Bob Cooter.
“I’m very excited for my opportunity with the Jaguars,” said Perry.
“At the end of the day, he made the decision that was best for him,” said Stellato. “Tony Romo went undrafted. A lot of teams got it wrong and he’s going to show it. He’s in a great position to develop with a coach who has worked so well for many years with quarterbacks.”
Even with E.J. in Florida, family support will never be too far out of reach. There’s a long line of aunts, uncles and cousins and plenty of competitions ahead at those Fourth of July reunions in New Hampshire.
The Perry picnics are about to become a bit more star-studded. Not every family has an NFL QB to play catch with.
Tom Leyden is as 11-time Emmy-winning sportscaster and the Publisher of Westwood Living Magazine. You can reach Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org and learn more at tomleyden.com