WILMINGTON – When Justin Perillo walked into St. Ann’s School on Feb. 3, he wasn’t greeted like a professional athlete, which he is. The Green Bay Packers tight end is more of a friend to St. Ann’s. He dished out some high fives to students he knows before getting hugs from teachers and other staff members at the Wilmington school.
Perillo visited with the kindergarten, first-grade and fifth-grade students for about a half hour during Catholic Schools Week. He discussed playing in the NFL and also attending Catholic school – he is a graduate of St. Catherine of Siena School.
He was invited by first-grade teacher Katie Flanagan, a family friend. Her sons, Riley and Patrick, wore their autographed Perillo jerseys and sat with him while he answered questions from the students. The questions covered a range of topics,, including whether he prays before games. Perillo said the team prays before and after games, and he also prays for his family.
He caught his first – and so far only – pro touchdown at Lambeau Field in Green Bay against the Lions late this past season and was asked to explain what it was like.
“I can’t explain that. I can’t believe I caught the pass. I usually catch it with my hands, but I caught it with my arms,” he said. “I was hesitant whether to Lambeau Leap or not. We were down. We needed a two-point conversion, and there were, like, 30 seconds left. So I just ran over there real fast and did it. So I was kind of nervous. I didn’t know what to do.”
The students watched a replay of the touchdown during the visit. After that, Flanagan surprised Perillo by displaying a picture from his First Communion at St. Catherine’s.
He comes from an athletic family. His brother, Jason, played football at Davidson College, and his sister, Kelly, just finished her senior season in volleyball at LaSalle University. His father, Billy, a St. Ann’s graduate, was all-state in three sports at St. Elizabeth High School. The family also includes his mother, Leigh, who, Perillo said, was always very supportive of her children’s athletic endeavors.
Perillo encouraged the students to work hard. He noted that his job in the NFL is not guaranteed, so he does what he can to ensure that he can stay in the game.
“I remember when I was younger. I just tried to do the best at everything I did. I would say right now to have fun playing sports and in school, work really hard to get good grades and pay attention to your teachers,” he said.
As a youngster, Perillo played soccer, basketball and baseball along with football. St. Catherine’s did not have football, so he played for St. John the Beloved and St. Elizabeth in Catholic Youth Ministry. He went to Tatnall School for high school in part because it gave him a chance to play with his brother, Jason, three years his senior. He excelled in multiple sports at Tatnall, particularly basketball, but football turned out to be the future.
“I was fortunate to get a scholarship out of high school to play in college,” he said.
He went on to Maine, where he majored in psychology. A student asked him what other career he’d like to have, but it’s something Perillo said he hasn’t really considered yet.
“I’d want to play a different sport, but if not, I’ve always talked to my brother about going down to Charlotte and working with him. We’ll see when my football career ends,” he said.
He’d like for that to be in Green Bay as long as possible.
“I went to my first practice. We played at Lambeau Field,” he recalled. “You run out of the tunnel, and there’s 80,000 people.
“It’s just a great community. They live and die with the Packers. I’m glad I landed there. I want to stay there for years to come. Just got to keep working hard.”