By Michael Freeman, Assistant Sports Editor
The ACU athletics department will retire the late Johnny Perkins’ number during a halftime ceremony Saturday at the Wildcats’ first home football game against Southeastern Oklahoma State.
Perkins, who wore No. 44, is only the fourth athlete in ACU history to have a jersey number retired. The jersey will be presented to Perkins’ wife Debra and his two children, Jasmine and Jia, during halftime after the Big Purple Band performs at Shotwell Stadium.
Wally Bullington, athletic director emeritus, was the head football coach of the Wildcats when Perkins played at ACU from 1974-76 and said Perkins’ accomplishments off the field were just as much reason to retire his number as his actions on the field.
“Johnny was a good person; he was a good representative for the university,” Bullington said. “He did a lot of youth work in the Granbury area. And for his funeral, the whole town turned out. They couldn’t get them all in the building. He was just held in high esteem in his hometown.”
Perkins died on April 25 after suffering complications from heart surgery. He still remains ACU’s highest draft choice (32nd player overall) after being drafted by the New York Giants in the second-round of the 1977 NFL Draft.
After his college and professional football careers, Perkins was a voice of encouragement to local high school athletes and summer camp church youth groups in the Granbury area.
“Johnny had a very likable personality,” Bullington said. “He had good people skills. He met his wife here, Debra. And she was from New York, so it was neat that he went to the New York Giants because she sort of went back to her roots that way.”
A committee made up of Dr. Gary D. McCaleb, vice president of the university; Jared Mosley, athletic director; Shelana Poindexter, assistant athletic director; and Bullington reached a collective agreement to retire Perkins’ number because of his outstanding football career.
Perkins was an all-America wide receiver who still is ACU’s all-time leader in receiving yards with 2,529 yards. He is third in touchdown catches (22) and sixth in receptions (116). He led the nation in receiving for the Wildcats as a junior in 1975, catching 50 passes for 1,195 yards and 12 touchdowns. In
29 games in his ACU career, he had a school-record 12 100-yard receiving games.
“We really were a passing team,” Bullington said. “To do that, you have to have great wide receivers and a good quarterback, and we had both.”
The combination of Perkins, quarterback Jim Reese and wide receiver Cle Montgomery made up one of the most feared offensive teams in the nation.
“He was the epitome example of what a true teammate was,” Montgomery said, who was Perkins’ roommate for three years. “He practiced hard; he played hard. He was unselfish. As long as the team was winning, he didn’t care.”
Perkins helped lead ACU to a 9-2 finish in 1976 and a win over Harding University in the Shrine Bowl in Pasadena.
“It was a lot of fun,” Montgomery said. “We had a lot of camaraderie. We were like family, like brothers. We were a close-knit unit back then.”
During Perkins’ career as a Wildcat, he earned honors including team MVP, Lone Star Conference Lineman of the Year, first team NAIA all-America and second team Associated Press Little all- America. He was named to the all-decade team of the 1970s at ACU, and he played in the Senior Bowl and Blue- Gray all-star games after his senior season in 1976.
Perkins left ACU after his senior season and played wide receiver for the New York Giants in the NFL for eight years.
In November 1990, he was inducted into the ACU Sports Hall of Fame. In August 2005, he was voted to the ACU Football all-Century Team, and in November, Perkins was one of 75 former
players and coaches named to the LSC’s 75th anniversary all-time team.
Currently, ACU senior defensive lineman Joe Edwards wears No. 44, but he will be the last Wildcat to ever wear the number after this season.
“Coach Chris Thomsen and I met with Joe and told him the importance of being a good representative of No. 44 this year,” Bullington said. “And he certainly agreed.”
Perkins’ jersey will also be displayed in the Teague Special Events Center.