Not many things in Josh Perkins' life arrive conventionally.
Not his career as a Montana State cornerback, from 1995-99, which by his own admission included several scuffles and hiccups. Not his professional life, highlighted by more ventures than he can name off the top of his head which were a high degree of entrepreneurial success. And certainly not his family life, which is rooted in a classroom on the MSU campus but ranges from the Compton section of Los Angeles to Northern Cheyenne country in Montana.
But one thing about Josh Perkins is clear and direct: his relationship with his son, Justus, now a redshirt freshman offensive lineman on the Bobcat football team.
“(His name) was going to be like it’s supposed to be, j-u-s-t-i-c-e, but I wanted him to know it was always going to be about us,” Josh Perkins says two decades after his own Bobcat career ended. “No matter whether I had any more kids or anything like that, it was going to be about us, just us. And I wanted him to know that I’d be there for him, so that’s why I spelled it that way. ‘Just us.’”
This Father’s Day, the Perkins youngsters planned to rekindle a family tradition of serving Josh breakfast in bed. “Now that they’re older it’s edible,” he deadpans, flashing a sense of humor that, among many other personality traits makes Perkins memorable.
While Justus Perkins came to MSU from Bozeman High, Josh Perkins found his way from inner-city Los Angeles after legendary one-time Montana State football coach Jim Sweeney tipped off one of his former players, Cliff Hysell, about an athletic young cornerback from Compton. Late in the spring of 1995, Hysell and assistant coach Tim Drevno offered Perkins the opportunity to fulfill a dream.
“That was my main goal, I just wanted to get to college,” said Perkins, whose first love was basketball. “I was the first person from my family to graduate from college, and that was always my goal. If I could get to college, I’d be rich. That was my mantra. (Hysell and Drevno) came and recruited me pretty late, but they offered me a full (scholarship) and so I did it."
In that way, Josh Perkins’ entry into the Bobcat football program and the Bozeman community was perfectly fitting. It was indicative of everything that would follow for Perkins because it centered on relationships.
“You can see,” he says during a long conversation detailing his personal journey and professional adventures, “it all comes back to MSU for me.”
That held true for Justus Perkins when the former star lineman from Bozeman High was picking a college.
“Bobcat football has definitely been a good portion of my life,” he said. “Playing at almost the highest level of football that is available and being able to do it in my hometown where my family could come watch me, I had a bountiful opportunity.”
Justus chose the program he’d loved and been around all his life. “I remember a night playoff game when DeNarius McGhee was our quarterback and a lot of Gold Rush games,” Justus said of his earliest Bobcat memories.
But Josh came to Bozeman sight unseen. He was also motivated.
“When I first got here, I felt like I’m the guy from Compton. I got in a lot of fights,” he said.
Compounded by what he referred to in a 2014 article he authored in Bozeman Magazine as a “Napoleon complex” because of his 5-foot-8 frame, Perkins credited the life-changing impact Hysell, known for unrelenting caring shrouded in a mercilessly gruff exterior, had in helping him “straighten up.”
The process of acclimating to Bozeman, though, began in his earliest moments in the Gallatin Valley. On his recruiting trip, Perkins met Nico Harrison, now a Bobcat icon and long-time, high-ranking executive at Nike but then a standout student and small forward on the MSU basketball team.
“I remember his recruiting visit,” said Harrison, who called Perkins “very personable” even 25 years ago. “Omar (Turner, then a Bobcat cornerback and now a successful businessman in the Dallas area) took him around, and Omar and I were roommates so we spent a bunch of time together.”
Through his own experiences, Harrison learned about assimilating in unfamiliar situations.
“I think when you come to Montana," he said, "it’s a learned behavior to let your guard down, because clearly you’re not in Compton or wherever it is we’re all from. We all had the ability to let our guard down, but we had to learn it.”
Perkins remains grateful for that encounter and the relationship that grew from it.
“Nico was a big part of me getting through college,” Perkins said. “He took me under his wing and was like, ‘Man, you out of the hood now, exhale. You don’t have to be that way.’”
During the year that their time overlapped on the MSU campus, Harrison introduced Perkins to community members, Bobcat fans, those interested both in the school’s athletic programs and the individuals who passed through them.
“So I had people in town that knew me and that made me a little bit more accountable because now I didn’t want to let these people down,” Perkins said. “Before that, I was just a dude who was out here, but I’m always thankful to Nico for that. He’s one of my mentors.”
Josh Perkins’ high school career began in his home area of Compton, but he transferred to Lakewood High in Long Beach “for better opportunities.” That transition helped showcase his football talents to college coaches. It also exposed him to broader educational experience.
That background gives him an appreciation for Justus’ experience in the Bozeman school system.
“I went to some student board meetings,” he said with a laugh. “I just said, you people have no idea how good you have it here.”
Josh Perkins’s work ethic and business acumen has helped him create successful ventures in nearly every corner of the U.S., from Seattle to Florida to his native southern California. They have ranged from fundraisers benefitting under-privileged children in the south to charity events for the foundations of professional athletes in Seattle to raising money for Alzheimer’s patients and research.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, he had constructed a comedy tour for a group of former Miami Hurricanes football players to help former teammates down on their luck.
The opportunities and relationships have connected and built off each other. They have originated from afar, such as NFL star Richard Sherman, whose brother, Branton, played football for the Bobcats for a couple of seasons, and NBA player Paul George, whose brother-in-law, Brandon Lincoln, was an MSU basketball assistant coach.
They also begin closer to home. Perkins heard from former Bobcat basketball star Nick Dissly when his brother Will, now a Seattle Seahawks tight end, was looking to conduct a charity event in Seattle. He also aided former teammate Eric Kinnaman, now Belgrade High's head football coach, create fundraising and friend-raising opportunities.
But all those ideas and ventures are rooted in a conversation about entrepreneurship that clicked for Perkins on the MSU campus.
“It was an exchange student that was in my Business 474 class that was here from the Philippines,” Perkins said of the spark that began his wide-ranging business life. “He would tell me, ‘Everybody’s doing all this to get a job, why would you want to get a job? Why would you want to make shoes for the shoemaker when you can own the (company)?’ In his country, it was so hard to start a business. … He said, ‘In America, they actually give you money to start a business and no one even tries. You can try and fail and then go get a job.’”
For his capstone project, Perkins created a business plan for a hip-hop clothing store. A good grade on that project led him to decide, “’That’s what I’m gonna do. I’m a black man with a degree from Montana State University, I know I’m going to kill any interview I go into so I’m not worried about getting a job. I ain’t afraid to work hard, let me make my own money for a minute. So if I’m gonna bust my ass anyway, I’m going to at least do it for myself.’”
Perkins converted his capstone project into a business plan, borrowed money, and the Justus Hip Hop Emporium clothing store was born in the Gallatin Valley Mall. Perkins faced tough times initially, but things turned around with an unexpected phone call from a security guard from his high school who 20 years ago worked on the security detail of rapper Snoop Dogg, who was scheduled for a concert in Worthington Arena. That phone call led to an opportunity for Perkins to acquire a considerable amount of Snoop Dogg merchandise for his store.
“I sold out of all that” merchandise, Perkins said. “That’s what put me on the map.”
After spending money on a new car “and all that stuff that you do when you’re not really paying attention,” he began creating more opportunities for himself. “I had the money so now I start throwing concerts, throwing parties, and it took off. But that (Snoop Dogg merchandise) kick-started everything.”
Retail success in the Gallatin Valley Mall led Perkins to relocate to downtown, which helped deepen his roots in the Bozeman community.
Perkins enjoyed the collegial environment. Eventually he partnered with Cactus Records on some business ventures, and the entire experience, he said, “got me more involved in the community.”
A recent business opportunity at the Yellowstone Club led to Perkins helping residents plan entertainment-oriented functions.
“I did a karaoke night for an NFL star, I’ve done some stuff for famous actors," Perkins said. "Whenever they’ve got private home things, they hire me and I set up whatever they need.”
Perkins has maintained his focus on what had kept he and his wife, Nola, in Bozeman for all these years. He has coached his sons in YMCA and Lions Club football and become involved in his children’s schools.
Those opportunities created an environment which allowed Justus Perkins to thrive. Active in school-related sports throughout his life, summers became about family time.
In addition to drawing the focus back to the family, Josh Perkins said it allowed he and Nola to expose the children to the diversity not always apparent in Bozeman.
“We’d take them different places. We’d do the Bahamas, we’d do Hawaii, we’d do Florida," he said "So they could be around different (cultures). Let’s try some Cuban food, let’s try some this or that, just to see all that’s out there.”
By avoiding commitment to the youth sports circuit in the summer, Josh Perkins feels Justus is peaking at the right time.
“That’s why I’m so happy and proud of him, because we did it my way and I think the right way," Josh said, "and he ended up playing sports in college.”
Justus enjoyed a productive football career at Bozeman High. Bobcats head coach Jeff Choate sees the same work ethic that Bozeman's coaches lauded.
“Hard worker,” Choate says of the characteristic that most defines Justus Perkins’ first year in the Bobcat program. “He’s a total grinder. When you watched him play in high school, all he did was put people on their backs. He’s not going to wow you when he walks through the door with his measurables, but he sure wows you with how he goes about his business, whether it’s in the classroom, between the white lines on the football field, or in the weight room.”
Justus Perkins, believed to be the first second generation African American player in Bobcat football history, also remains proud of his father.
“He was a kid from California, growing up in a one-parent household. His journey was a lot greater than mine. That’s why I had so much respect for him,” Justus said. “He put in so much hard work. He was dedicated to it, so I’m appreciative. He gave me that competitive spirit so I’ve upheld it and trust the process.”
Josh Perkins was a fine player for the Bobcats. He was the team’s nickelback for much of his career not because of shortcomings as a corner but because of the flexibility it provided.
“He was obviously athletic enough to play in the secondary but he was also physical enough to play linebacker,” said Butch Damberger, MSU's secondary coach for Perkins’ final two seasons, who said Perkins was also physical enough to defend the run game, which gave the Bobcats flexibility.
Josh Perkins played with joy and effervescence that many remember, but that isn’t necessarily a trait he handed down. Justus feels it relates more to his position.
“My dad played corner, secondary, and they’re known to talk," he said. "Offensive linemen, we don’t get the spotlight as much. When we do, we try to enjoy it as much as possible. I try to make sure that when people look back on film, they’ll see I give 100% effort all the time. When I do talk smack, it’s nothing crazy. I try to let my game do the talking.”
For all the good things Josh Perkins has brought to Bozeman, he’s also served as an important conduit between former teammates and their school.
Choate has long admired Perkins’ commitment to Bobcat football and his willingness to help anyone in need.
“Since the time that I first got here, he’s been a guy that has a strong connection to the program and takes a lot of pride in the opportunity that was presented to him here at Montana State,” he said. “He’s very dialed in to giving back, whether that’s to his community back in California, this program here at Montana State, or our community of Bozeman.”
Perkins’ instinct for tangible displays of gratitude was instilled in him by his mother, Verniel, who raised him alone.
“My mom had me at an early age. She was only 17, but she finished high school, she went to junior college, and she’s a dental assistant now,” Josh Perkins said. “Her thing was giving back. When I was young I had to do a lot of charitable events. I’d always go clean up the park, always go clean up the beach. She always had me volunteering.
“At that time, I was annoyed,” Perkins added, “but now that I look back, it gave me a chance to get out of the hood. I was in all these different areas, saw all these different people, and I think that prepared me to come out here to Montana.”
Choate has noticed the same determination in Justus Perkins’ life that he sees in his father’s business dealings.
Justus, also a business major at MSU, hopes that he can tap into his father’s vein of business brilliance, amplify it with his own work ethic, and make it eventually pay off.
“I definitely feel like watching my dad do what he does that he was born for it,” the younger Perkins said. "It comes naturally to him. I don’t know what I want to do in the business world yet. Hopefully I can find that in the next couple of years.”
For now, the next couple of years will involve Perkins contributing to the Bobcat football program. He figures into an apprenticeship role early in his career, contributing on special teams, while battling for time on an offensive line that Choate says he wants to “get old and stay old,” emphasizing experience.
If time has taught any lessons for the Perkins family, it’s that staying power at MSU is a powerful force.
“I’m grateful for the opportunities,” Josh Perkins said simply, a gratitude so many reciprocate.