North Dakota State Bison Eric Perkins proving dependable in return game
FARGO -- The revolving door for punt and kickoff returners at North Dakota State seems to be spinning a little bit less lately. The reasons are probably varied, but it's helped that Eric Perkins has taken it upon himself to find a way to contribu...
FARGO - The revolving door for punt and kickoff returners at North Dakota State seems to be spinning a little bit less lately. The reasons are probably varied, but it’s helped that Eric Perkins has taken it upon himself to find a way to contribute at a position other than wide receiver.
Perkins had hopes of getting himself into the receiver mix this season, and he’s played a little bit with two receptions in nine games. But by far his contribution has morphed into a return specialist, a job that began last year as the main kickoff return guy and has increased this season with the punting job.
“I’m just trying to do whatever I can and if that means being the special teams guy, that’s fine with me,” Perkins said.
It hasn’t always been smooth. He muffed a punt in his own territory in the third game of the season against North Dakota, although teammate Bruce Anderson recovered it. NDSU put freshman Darrius Shepherd back on punts after that, although Shepherd fumbled in the third quarter and UND recovered.
There was more to that circus. NDSU went back to Perkins in the fourth quarter, and he mishandled another punt, only this time inside his own 10-yard line. Anderson, again, pounced on that one.
“That dude boomed that punt, I was running back and couldn’t get to it,” Perkins said. “After the North Dakota game, I really locked myself down, got after catching everything and making sure I’ll never do that again in a game.”
The Bison have mixed cornerback C.J. Smith into the punt return rotation at times this season, although it’s not what Chris Klieman would prefer since Smith rarely comes out of the game on defense. Smith has fair caught every one of his returns.
Not Perkins, who kept the Bison in good field position last Saturday against Western Illinois by either fair catching shorter punts or a simple-looking seven-yard return that got NDSU near midfield in the second half - a possession that ended in a touchdown. Two weeks ago, his 35-yard kickoff return at Southern Illinois after the Salukis pulled within 28-22 in the fourth quarter led to a Bison touchdown just 38 seconds later.
“It’s always good knowing I can help the offense score,” Perkins said.
Perkins played in all 15 games as a redshirt freshman in 2013, catching eight passes - and showing promise that he could crack the lineup at some point in the future. It hasn’t happened yet at receiver, but he’s making a difference in other ways.
“It kind of started last year when I got put in that role at Missouri State,” he said. “I tried to keep that job all the way through the season, through spring football and fall camp. I’m making sure I’m catching every punt I can catch in a game, making the best decisions of catching it or fair catching it and just controlling everything out there. If I can catch one to save ourselves field position, that’s a big thing.”