The Orth brothers wanted a dog. Calvin, who would go on to play baseball at The Citadel, was 14. Perry, who is competing to be South Carolina’s starting quarterback, was 12. Evan, a quarterback at South Alabama, was 10.
“I was like, ‘We want a dog,’ ” Perry said to his parents. “They said, ‘You want a dog, you better go earn it.’ We were like, ‘OK. Well, how do you make money?’ ”
That’s how the Orth Brothers Lawn Service was born. The business would eventually buy two yellow labs – Blue, who died six years later, and Steve, his successor – and provide walking-around money for the three brothers until Perry went off to college in 2012.
“Sometimes we would make some good money,” Evan said. “We had a cool little business going on.”
Eleven years later the work ethic instilled walking back and forth across all those yards in northern Florida is still paying dividends for Perry, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior who is trying again to earn a job he’s already won once. Orth is competing with freshman Brandon McIlwain, and to a lesser degree freshman Jake Bentley, for South Carolina’s starting quarterback job.
The job, like the dog, will not be given to him.
“Perry has been great, has worked extremely hard, has all the intangibles for the position to be extremely successful,” Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said. “He positively affects everyone around him, including the two young players who are competing with him, but at the end of the day it’s not really about what class you are, it’s about how good a football player are you and can you help us win? Perry understands that.”
Orth arrived in Columbia from Ponte Vedra, Fla., in 2013 after one semester at a community college near his home. He threw three passes in the next two seasons and entered his junior year still a walk-on and not even an afterthought in the quarterback competition. By the end of the season, he had earned a scholarship, supplanted two four-star prospects at the position and started eight games.
“Perry Orth is one of the most humble human beings I have ever been around,” senior offensive lineman Mason Zandi said. “That man has worked for everything he has been given, and he’s going to continue to work for everything.”
Orth completed 144-of-261 passes for 1,929 yards, 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions a season ago. He also rushed for 138 yards and caught one 17-yard touchdown pass. In the span of six months, he went from working at the local Publix to help supplement his school costs to starting games in some of college football’s most iconic venues – Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga.; Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.; Kyle Field in College Station, Texas; and Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.
“He’s a good athlete, but we didn’t really know how good he could be,” Calvin said. “Then when he started moving up the depth chart and they started showing him some love, we’re like, ‘Alright.’
“Now we have an understanding of, ‘He’s got a shot.’ Watching him play, that’s when it was kind of like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe my brother is actually out there playing. He’s just a normal guy.’ You watch the guys on TV all the time and they seem like they are superstars, and he’s just a normal guy out there playing football. That was, not surprising, but pretty exciting and awesome to watch.”
That was the feel-good side of the story. The other side is the Gamecocks were 1-7 in those games. Enter McIlwain, a four-star prospect and Elite 11 quarterback who enrolled early in order to participate in spring practice and exited the spring as the co-No. 1 along with Orth, who missed the last half of spring practice because of a broken collarbone.
Orth is 100 percent recovered from his collarbone injury.
“He looks more powerful than he did in the spring,” offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said. “I think he’s stronger. He’s moving at a good pace right now.”
Still, the injury allowed McIlwain more time to chip away at Orth’s hold on the job.
“Experience is obviously a huge advantage,” Roper said. “You’ve been in the stadiums before. You’ve gotten ready for the games before and gone through all the butterflies, and obviously just dealing with the complex defenses that you see in the SEC. There are some really good defensive coordinators in this league and being in the battle before definitely helps. I think experience is a great indicator, but talent is a great thing to have on your side. We’ve just got to find out who’s going to be the most productive.”
Orth has embraced the competition, which is another lesson he learned shoulder-to-shoulder with his brothers. When they weren’t mowing lawns, they were playing basketball in the front drive or something in the backyard.
“Everything was a competition,” Perry said. “I think that’s what helped get us all to Division I college sports.”
It wasn’t always a smooth road, though.
Calvin: “It got rough sometimes. We are pretty good sports, but… We’d fight a lot, I’ll tell you that.”
Evan: “It was never friendly. You wanted to win.”
Perry: “It got heated.”
“Brothers are always going to get feisty, but it was all friends after,” Perry continued. “We’d scuffle I guess a little bit, but 10 minutes later we’d pick back up and do whatever we were doing before. We’re all best friends. We talk every single day, and I can’t thank those guys enough.”
Although Perry’s star is ascending the highest at the moment, he has not used it as ammunition against his brothers, they said.
“He’s handled it well,” Calvin said. “He realizes where he’s at, but at the same time he doesn’t really see the magnitude of it. He’s pretty even-keeled. He’s always had a calm personality. He said his first start at Georgia he was pretty nervous, but after the first quarter he was just out there playing football at Jax Beach (the recreation league in Florida where the brothers first played the game).”
Evan has used Perry’s example as he tries to win the starting job at South Alabama, where he currently is a redshirt freshman competing with two other players for the top spot.
“A lot of people are surprised, like, ‘What the heck? He came from nothing and now he’s starting against all these teams, throwing three touchdowns against Tennessee,’ but success equals preparation plus opportunity,” Evan said. “Perry prepared the way you are supposed to and got after it and when his opportunity came he was ready for it.”
Perry is even more ready for this season, he said, adding the game is “has slowed down exponentially now.”
“He knows he can play now,” Evan said. “Last year, it was, ‘Woah, I’m playing in the SEC every week.’ Now this year his mindset is, ‘Let’s go, we’re going to win. We’re going to build this team to win.’ ”
Orth last season
Perry Orth’s passing stats from the 2015 season: