DALLAS — On the Monday before the Big Ten title game in early December, I was in Columbus to do some on-camera sit-downs with Urban Meyer and a few of his players for our pregame show on FOX. We weren’t sure which players would be made available to us. It had been a chaotic week for the Buckeyes. I can’t say I knew much about Joshua Perry when the towering junior linebacker walked over to our set in the Ohio State weight room, extended his hand and introduced himself to me and our crew.
I mean, I knew that Perry was one of the Buckeyes’ best defensive players and a Freak athlete who despite being 250-pounds had been a star long jumper and hurdler in high school, but I didn’t really know who he was at that time. He came across as polite and engaging in our 10-minute chat. It didn’t feel like an interview. I’m not sure the Buckeyes could’ve given us a better representative. And that was about a lot more than just the fact that he’s the team’s leading tackler (118) by a wide margin.
Not long after leaving Ohio State, I saw an eight-minute feature that FOX Sports had done about the relationship between Perry and a 5-year-old boy in Florida named Joshua Chambers who was battling cancer. It was remarkable to see the impact the star linebacker had had on the child. Since the time he was about 3, little Joshua has been coping with high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), which is now in remission. The TV feature was one of the most emotional pieces I’d seen in a while, and I encourage you to watch it now.
The video details how Perry and the younger Joshua met through Perry’s mom, who works in an elementary school with someone who grew up with Chambers’ father, and shows their first meeting in person. The interaction between big Joshua, the college football star, and little Joshua (wearing his favorite player’s No. 37) is powerful stuff. Perry has made quite an impact on the Chambers family emotionally, but he’s also helped them in their efforts to raise money and awareness for families dealing with pediatric cancer. The family is also chronicling Joshua’s Journey through a Facebook page and website, http://www.bebrave.me.
At Saturday’s media day, I spoke to Perry about their bond. He explained that it all stemmed from something his parents had always told him — that you make time for what’s important to you and how important it is to "pay it forward."
"Obviously, it gives me a little perspective on things," said Perry, who describes his friend as a little ball of energy. "I look and I see a 5-year-old who has gone through cancer treatments and everything that comes with that, and he always has a smile on his face and so much energy. So why am I allowed to be in a bad mood going out to practice? The other thing is it really inspires you to know how much he cares about us, to see how he feels about being part of a family, and just by being a player at Ohio State that we can do that is a great thing."
Asked how he’d describe the kind of person Joshua Perry is, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer gushed.
"He’s a guy that was committed to Ohio State before we got there, a guy that was not very highly recruited, you could tell right away, a really talented guy," Meyer said Sunday morning. "He was still growing into who he was as a person. He comes from one of the best families I’ve ever been around, and he just started to grind and work. I think through the Internet I saw a couple pictures of what he looked like, and (it’s quite a difference from) what he looks like now. He’s got multiple job offers waiting for him for when he’s done playing college football. One of those job offers will be in the NFL. That’s how much he’s improved.
"He’s what college football is all about. … he has an incredible ability to make someone’s day a little brighter, and he takes that very serious. A great young man."
A few weeks before the Buckeyes beat No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, Perry mailed little Joshua a Christmas gift.
"My mom made him PJs and we opened ’em over FaceTime, which was very cool," said Perry, who added that he and his little buddy go on FaceTime together usually about once a week and that he texts Chambers’ father, Jeremy, a few times a week. He even sent little Joshua a postcard before they went to Louisiana for the Sugar Bowl. Perry’s also excited that he’ll get to meet up with Joshua again later this month when he travels to the Orlando, Florida, area as part of a leadership convention he’s attending.
"I can’t wait to see him," Perry said. "It’s gonna be really good seeing him and his family."
On Monday night, Perry’s biggest fan will be watching the national championship game at home in Winter Springs, Florida, and wearing his No. 37 Buckeyes jersey, as always, Jeremy Chambers says.
"We will put the game on for him in his room, but he will most likely fall asleep by halftime," he said. "His first question Tuesday morning will be if we won. He also will be tired tomorrow night as he has chemo in the morning."