Malcolm Perry had a spot on the New England Patriots training camp roster this year. But days before practices were set to open, the former Navy star announced that he was retiring from the NFL to immediately join the armed services.
It’s a decision that Bill Belichick respects. On Tuesday, he reflected on Perry’s decision to “forego an NFL career,” as well as the rich history of players from service academies spending time in the NFL while also balancing their duties to their country.
“We had a number of conversations and I have a ton of respect for Malcolm and the decision that he made,” Belichick said Tuesday. “I’m sure he’ll be a great teammate and a great Marine and I’m glad he’s on our side, glad he’s defending us and he’s on our side.”
Belichick has long been open about his appreciation for the service academies and those in the armed services. His father, Steve Belichick, was a longtime assistant coach at Navy, with Bill spending much of his youth around Annapolis.
These days, Belichick is known for his fondness for players coming out of the service academies, with the Patriots regularly linked for former Navy players entering the draft. One such player was Perry, who played quarterback for the Midshipmen before moving to a running back/wide receiver role after he was drafted by the Dolphins in 2020.
Perry played in nine games as a rookie, catching nine passes for 92 yards and a touchdown while also running the ball three times. Perry was let go during roster cuts in 2021, leading to the Patriots scooping him up on waivers. He later landed on injured reserve before being released and spending the rest of the season on the Saints practice squad.
The Patriots brought Perry back in 2022 on a reserve/futures contract, giving him a chance to fight for a spot on the roster. However, Perry chose to join a different fight when he opted to retire and return to Navy service.
“Obviously a big life decision for Malcolm and one that you know I and, as an organization, we have total respect and appreciation for,” Belichick said. “That’s real-life football. There’s real bullets out there, you know? We coach and play a great game. But that game, that’s for all the marbles. Anybody that’s in that arena, we have the ultimate respect for.”
Belichick has a long history with players from service academies, and those who went to serve after their football careers. Whether it was a former Patriots player or a former Lions player who went on to become an admiral, Belichick rattled them all off like he’d coached them yesterday.
There’s Eric Kettomi, a Navy fullback that had two stints with the Patriots (2009-2012, 2015).
Phil McConkey was a Navy wide receiver who played for the Giants while Belichick was a defensive assistant.
Kyle Eckel? He’s another fullback who had two stints in New England (2005, 2007-2008).
Remember Chet Moeller? Probably not. He doesn’t even have a page on Pro Football Reference. That’s because he got an early discharge from the Navy after being diagnosed with diabetes. He eventually signed with Belichick’s Giants, but was cut after the first preseason game. Belichick rattled him off like everyone on the call knew who he was.
Then there was John “Boomer” Stufflebeem. Belichick said he was an NFL-caliber punter who could have stuck around with the Detroit Lions while Belichick was an assistant there. Instead, Stufflebeem went into the Navy and rose to the rank of admiral.
“Of course, everybody probably over the age of 30, remembers him from the daily press briefings that he gave with the post-9/11 press conferences,” Belichick said.
Belichick also spent time with players who went to the NFL before joining the military. Jake Bequette, a third-round pick out of Arkansas in 2012, played four NFL seasons before joining the Army. Belichick says he also spent time with Pat Tillman during his time at Arizona State. Tillman famously left the Arizona Cardinals to join the military before being killed in action as a result of accidental friendly fire in Afghanistan.
While Belichick has his own reasons for not wearing the NFL’s Salute to Service gear, he’s active and vocal about supporting those in the armed services and their families. On Sunday, Belichick and Patriots coaches wore pins in support of TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) which cares for “the families of America’s fallen heroes.”
This content was originally published here.