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Jeff Kolpack, Published September 11 2013

Walk-on receiver Perkins in line to fill Smith's shoes

FARGO – The third-down-and-8 pass from North Dakota State quarterback Brock Jensen hit the 5-foot-8 receiver down the middle for a first down. The athletic-looking reception last week against Ferris State went for a 33-yard gain.

Ryan Smith with the catch?

Not quite. It was freshman Eric Perkins, who is the heir apparent to Smith as the team’s slot receiver. Perkins is practically a clone of Smith, starting with the obvious height comparisons.

“I’m just trying to live up to Ryan’s standards right now and just learning everything I can from him,” Perkins said.

Both were running backs in high school – Smith in Wahpeton, N.D., and Perkins in Kewaskum, Wis. Both have good hands, and both are not afraid of contact after a reception.

“Both think alike when it comes to the physicality of the smaller guy,” said NDSU receivers coach Kenni Burns. “Both have very good ball skills.”

About the only major difference is the path they took to NDSU. Smith was a highly recruited priority in in the state of North Dakota when he signed with the 2010 recruiting class. Perkins was a walk-on last year with the dream of playing Division I football.

He came to the NDSU summer camp during high school with the hopes of impressing the coaches. It was Burns who suggested to Perkins that if he wanted to play at the FCS level, he would probably have to switch from running back to receiver.

After NDSU won its first FCS national title in 2011, Perkins called the NDSU football office asking if the Bison were still interested in him. He got a preferred walk-on invitation before he hung up and accepted it on the spot – spurning a couple of Division II scholarship offers as a running back.

“We didn’t forget about him,” Burns said. “It was one of those deals where we came to the conclusion Eric wasn’t going to be an offer guy. But he was aggressive in wanting to be here, and we said, ‘Let’s get him on our roster for that reason.’ ”

Plus, the Bison liked his persistence, which Burns said reminded them of the way receiver Nate Moody approached NDSU about walking on.

“They have this attack-mode mentality that no one is going to stop them or bring them down,” Burns said. “Those guys always have a chance. I truly believe in football you can outwork your opponent to get an edge on them.”

It’s proving true with Perkins. He was on the national title travel squad, although that was more of a reward for playing well on scout team than anything else. NDSU had no plans on burning his redshirt in that game.

It was another victory for the walk-on program. Perkins points to starting right tackle Joe Haeg as a good example of that.

“He worked his way up to a starting position,” Perkins said. “That’s really inspiring that you know you have a chance to play if you work hard.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia