SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - At all of 23, Patrick Perry is a college football player, graduate student, substitute teacher, husband and father of two young girls.
Talk about a juggling act.
That's just how it goes when you're a sixth-year college senior who has already graduated and several years older than most of your teammates. The San Jose State running back received a medical hardship from the NCAA because of two seasons he lost with an injured knee. Between football practice and fatherhood, he finds time to substitute teach at an after-school program not far from campus.
"It's cool because I have my degree and there are options on the other side, but it's fun that I don't have to go to work every day and can go play football," said Perry, who seems almost larger than life sitting on a low lunch table in an elementary school cafeteria. "Being here, there's a lot of things you can take from working with kids that transfer to football. Here, I come and I'm the boss. I get to tell them what to do. Then I go to football practice and I'm just another athlete. I'm not the boss anymore. I get to look at it from the kids' point of view."
On a recent Tuesday in a low-income neighborhood of San Jose, Perry was leading a bunch of third-graders at Jeanne R. Meadows Elementary School. When he subs, he might be assigned to students ranging from first-graders to seventh-graders - good preparation considering he hopes to become a counselor.
He took charge in a hurry. He had no choice with this rowdy group.
"Listen, nobody should be talking except me. I'm going to start calling parents," Perry demanded. "Hey, it is quiet in here! Pull out your homework! Don't touch anything on the board. You know the rules."
Perry has come a long way to reach this point. He's not the same football player he was before having right knee surgery in August 2007, yet that didn't keep him from wanting to finish the college football career he started during his 2004 redshirt season.
He ran for a team-leading seven touchdowns in 2006 as a sophomore and became the first Spartans player in six years to score three or more rushing TDs in a game when he had three in a win against Idaho that made San Jose State bowl-eligible. After that, Perry missed the 2007 and '08 campaigns with injuries.
It's been a grueling road back, but he wrote an essay to the NCAA to make his case for another year. He found out he'd been approved only a few days before the season opener this year, though coach Dick Tomey was confident.
"I just practiced and didn't worry about it. It was a very long process," Perry said. "Coach Tomey always preaches about finishing. It was only right for me to finish. I had a decent year before I got hurt. I didn't want to finish with an injury, at least give me a chance to walk away on two feet."
Now, Perry has an ice machine at his house, which he uses for about 40 minutes when he gets home each night while he's studying.
The schedule is chaotic to say the least.
Tomey holds morning practices, so Perry takes classes at night.
"I'm very impressed with what Pat Perry has done," Tomey said. "He's coming back off of a serious injury for a running back. He's done a terrific job of showing he can be a big help."
Perry typically leaves home at 5:45 a.m. for a 6:30 a.m. football meeting, then has practice. From about noon to 2 p.m. he has time to do homework and pay bills online. From there, he rides his bike to teach, then gets back to campus just in time for film session. He's in class from 7 p.m. until 9:45 p.m., then gets home in time to briefly see his oldest daughter, 4-year-old Lailyn, before she goes to bed.
"It's a busy day," Perry said, smiling.
Perry also has a 1-year-old daughter, Riley. His wife, Sarai, is a law clerk in San Jose.
He knows most people wouldn't have tried to come back at his stage - not with so much other life stuff to balance. It's especially hard considering the Spartans' struggles and dismal rushing attack. San Jose State is 1-9 and 0-6 in the Western Athletic Conference, its lone win coming against non-Football Bowl Subdivision school Cal Poly on Sept. 26.
The team has been outscored 349-132 and Tomey announced last week he would retire after the season.
Perry is the team's second-leading rusher with 55 carries for 174 yards and one touchdown. He has two games left, then he can get on in earnest with his life after football.
"It's unfortunate how our season's been going," Perry said. "I could have stopped working and thrown in the towel and started my life. I think a lot of people would have. It's all in your character. There are a lot of people who come back from an injury as well."
Perry's final home game is Saturday against New Mexico State.
His teammates appreciate Perry's dedication and extra effort in challenging circumstances.
"We know his story with his knee. I've seen guys hurt like that and you don't see them for a year," linebacker Travis Jones said. "He was here every day in the weight room, conditioning, and fighting to get back. This year he was expected to play a lot and maybe it hasn't gone the way he'd like it. But when you look at practice, he's out there on the scout team working against our defense. He's doing whatever he can to help the team. If that's not a leader, I don't know what is."
Perry teaches two to four days a week depending on his football and school schedule. He has a bachelor's degree in communications and sociology and is nearly halfway through his master's in counseling. Initially, he started with the program as a volunteer, then expressed interest in a regular job. The nonprofit Communities Organizing Resources to Advance Learning, or CORAL, has some 140 students involved in the San Jose area.
"The big thing is his patience," said Dan Fukuyama, site manager of the program. "I think a lot of things he's taught them is the ability to go above and beyond. He is a father, he does have football practice. He does all those things."
The Los Angeles-raised Perry has followed the footsteps of big brother Roderick, who's just 13 months older. Roderick was the first in the family to graduate from college, then recently received his master's in business management from Grambling.
As far as his teaching goes, Perry knows it is helping prepare him for the various stages he'll face in parenting.
"I get to be on both sides of the spectrum," he said. "As a kid, both my parents worked and I attended the YMCA after school program. I think they kind of helped build community around my area. Even though my parents weren't there every day right after school, they gave me a safe place to go. When I was there I learned things and it helped form the person I am today."