There aren’t too many sophomores who make an impact much less play in the world of Mississippi Class 6A football, but Brandon linebacker Zihenryon Perry did in the season opener against Madison Central two years ago.
Perry didn’t play in the first half against the Jaguars, but did in the second half and registered 12 tackles against the then No. 5 team in the state. Madison Central scored a touchdown late in the game to win 10-3 to open the 2017 season.
Perry started every game since. In fact, Perry has improved so much that USA Today selected Perry on their second team on their All-American football team this week. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound senior inside linebacker had 226 tackles, the second most in the country, according to USA Today. Perry averaged 16.1 tackles per game. He is one of two Mississippians on the team. Defensive lineman McKinnley Jackson of George County also made second team.
“Zi is big, strong, fast and smart,” Brandon head coach Tyler Peterson said. “We knew about Zi in middle school and we thought he was going to be a good one. He came in in the second half against Madison as a sophomore and took over. He was a starter from that point forward. He’s one of those guys who when the lights come on Friday night, he comes to play. He might not run but a 4.7 40, but in a game he can run down a guy who runs a 4.5. Zi can go from sideline to sideline. When he hits you, you are going to feel it. He has been fun to watch during his career.”
Perry had 156 tackles in 12 games, an average of 13.8, as a sophomore. He had 183 in 15 games, an average of 12.2 as a junior. Perry had 14 tackles for loss and 10 sacks as a sophomore, 17 tackles for loss and eight sacks as a junior and 18 tackles for loss and nine sacks as a senior.
Perry has been a thorn in the side of opponents like Pearl for three seasons.
“Perry plays football with a bit of a mean streak,” Pearl coach John Perry said. “And that comes in handy when you play linebacker. He has a lot of upside due to a good frame and he finds the ball well.”
In one of the best games of his career, Perry had a career-high 29 tackles, 17 solo tackles, in Brandon’s 34-33 overtime victory over Pearl in the Class 6A playoffs in 2018. In possibly the biggest tackle of his career, Perry stopped Pearl star running back Kenyatta Harrell short on a two-point conversion try to win the game in overtime. Harrell had 289 yards and four touchdowns in the game before Perry’s tackle, which ended the season for the 6A defending state champion Pirates.
Mississippi high school football fans remember another outstanding linebacker more than a decade ago who played for Brandon High named Demario Davis, who ran sideline to sideline causing havoc for opposing offenses. Davis is now a starting linebacker with the New Orleans Saints. Davis was a third round draft pick by the New York Jets in 2012 and is in his eighth NFL season, second with the Saints. Davis has become one of the best linebackers in the NFL and one of the reasons why the Saints have one of the best teams in the league.
“ZI reminds me of Demario because of his build (same height 6-2 and Demario is 13 pounds heavier, 248 to 235), his speed and the way that he goes after the ball,” Peterson said. “In fact, Demario has been mentoring Zi and has helped him.”
“Zi is one of the best young linebackers I’ve ever seen play,” said Davis to Rod Walker of the New Orleans Advocate. “He is an outstanding ball player and a very mature young man. His future is bright.”
“Demario has taught me that priorities such as school comes first,” Perry said. “I need to be a grown man and handle my business. I watch Demario play every Sunday. He is fast and physical and that’s why he makes so many tackles. When Demario has come and talked to our team he told us to stay hungry and give it your all every game.”
Davis didn’t have many scholarship offers out of Brandon High. He signed with Arkansas State and went on to become one of the best linebackers in college football. Perry hasn’t decided on his college choice yet. Peterson sees a lot of Demario in Zi.
“Zi has a lot of potential and I see him doing great things in the future,” Peterson said. “Zi has more matured very much since he was in the ninth and 10th grades. He has improved on the field and in the classroom. I’m proud of how far he has come.”
All the way to being an All-American.
Check out the story at the New Orleans Advocate about Demario Davis.