He may have been an Emmitt Smith fan as a boy growing up in Wilmington, Del., but make no mistake. Justin Perillo and just about everyone he knew liked the Philadelphia Eagles.
He also liked the idea of one day playing in the NFL. It's been his dream since childhood, something the former University of Maine tight end didn't know would be possible until he entered the Green Bay Packers' training camp this offseason.
Perillo didn't make the 53-man roster out of camp, but he hung onto the Packers' practice squad until being signed to the active roster last week. His first game with the Packers? Of course it was against the Eagles.
Perillo talked about the experience of his first game at Lambeau Field, the perseverance it took to work his way from the practice squad to the active roster, and how he hopes to build off the opportunity in this week's Q&A with Press-Gazette Media.
What's this past week been like for you?
Perillo: Definitely a lot of excitement. Playing in my first NFL game was really exciting for me and my family, as well. It was definitely exciting to finally get called up. All my hard work has paid off, but I've got to keep on working hard. Still a lot of things that I have to work on.
What family members did you have in the stands Sunday?
Perillo: My mom and dad. They came up. So it was really nice to see them.
What was that conversation like when you called to let them know you'd be playing in your first NFL game?
Perillo: They were shocked. I mean, just giving them that call just to let them know, they were kind of speechless for a second. Then they were just happy for me that I got the call.
How long has playing in the NFL been a dream of yours?
Perillo: Definitely my whole life, it's been a dream to play in the NFL. I mean, as a little kid, you wanted to play in any professional sport you played in growing up and everything. Once I got to college and picked the one sport, that's when I set that as a goal.
When did you know this was actually realistic?
Perillo: I'd say training camp, just working hard. I don't know, I just kept on going at it. I didn't really think about it. I just kept on going out there every day, working hard and doing my job and doing my assignments, and just trying to keep on getting better each and every day.
You come from Maine and walk into Green Bay Packers training camp. That's obviously a huge jump. Was there a moment in training camp when you realized you could compete on this level?
Perillo: Obviously, it took me a little bit coming from D-I AA — the speed and everything, getting adjusted. It took me a little to get used to it. I just kept on working hard, and I've still got to get used to some of it, too. Definitely, there are some things to work on.
Going back to training camp, you made some plays in practice. Seemed like you had a knack for getting open. How disappointing was it when you didn't make the 53-man roster at the end of August?
Perillo: Obviously it was disappointing because you want to do that, but they still called me back for the practice squad, which was very exciting as well. Because, still, you've got a job. You just keep on working hard, and you would have a chance to make the roster.
More than two months have passed since then. How have you spent the first 11 weeks of this season?
Perillo: Just taking it every day. Just going out there, working hard, still putting my nose in the playbook because you never know when your chance is going to come. So you have to be ready for it. That's how I took it every day.
(Special teams) coach (Shawn) Slocum had some positive things to say about your first game, how you looked in special teams. How did you think you played?
Perillo: I think I played all right. I mean, I think I can definitely play a lot better. I just have to get used to it, definitely make some better blocks. Just get used to it.
Is it a big adjustment to go from college, where you're unquestionably the guy, to a team where your primary role is special teams?
Perillo: It's been a bit of a little adjustment, because I didn't do it at all at Maine for four years, really. So it is definitely, but I'm getting used to it. You've got to get used to it quick. I mean, definitely, it's my main job now. So just take it, practice it every day and get better. Get in your playbook, look at your film and see what other teams do.
So you thought about playing in the NFL your whole life, growing up not far from Philadelphia. Then your first game is against the Eagles. Did you take a moment to think what were the chances of that happening?
Perillo: Oh, it was awesome. It was great. I was getting a lot of phone calls and texts about it. Everybody was super excited to have me go out there. I was definitely nervous for the first game, but then I started getting used to it.
Were there any players you looked up to as a kid when you were younger?
Perillo: As a kid? I was a big Emmitt Smith fan.
Emmitt Smith? He was like, anti-Eagles.
Perillo: Yeah, he was anti-Eagles. So I wasn't an Eagles fan as a kid, but as I got older and stuff if I had to pick a team, it would've been the Eagles.
What do you need to do to build off this first step here?
Perillo: Definitely just keep on working hard every day. Try to definitely improve. I have to improve my blocking, definitely flexibility and getting low, getting my lower legs stronger. Still, just keep on working on my route-running, too. All aspects of the game.
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