Oklahoma true freshman running back Samaje Perine arrived on campus six months ago with a magnetism rarely found in anyone, let alone someone 18 years old.
As a person, Perine is humble, polite, intelligent, gracious, poised and mature. He is all these things, not only beyond his years but also beyond anyone’s comprehension.
As a football player, Perine is a relentless combination of astounding power and sneaky speed. He is a locomotive at the line of scrimmage who becomes a runaway train in the open field. He is a 5-foot-11, 243-pound wrecking ball with feet. This did not come by accident. Perine claims there are times he would rather work out in the weight room than play in a game. He studies footage of opposing defenses and also of himself, looking for weaknesses in both. He does all this without saying a word, nary a peep.
Not all this can possibly be true, which is why Perine’s mother, Gloria, was asked for full disclosure. She had to share at least one time her son needed to be disciplined – at home, at school, in church, anywhere.
“Let me think,” Gloria said, pausing. “Hmmm … No, not really. Once, maybe it was in first grade, he had to get put in timeout. He was talking when he shouldn’t have been talking.”
In school, he was friends with everybody, made all A’s in his classes and was always respectful. I don’t have a negative word to say about him.
Hendrickson HS Principal Devin Padavil
That’s it? Of all things, OU’s scintillating silent nightmare runs afoul from school law and it’s for talking in class at age seven? Perine has been put in timeout exactly once. Not once a week, once a month, or once a year, but once in his entire life?
(Gloria quietly giggles.)
At no time did Perine ever have to visit the principal’s office?
“No, he went there,” Gloria admitted.
Ah-ha. Busted. What was the reason?
“He visited the principal’s office when Mr. Padavil (principal Devin Padavil at Hendrickson High School in Pflugerville, Texas) wanted to wear Samaje’s football jersey every Friday for a game,” Gloria explained. “So he went in, took his (No. 32) jersey to the principal every Friday and Mr. Padavil wore the jersey during school that day.”
Padavil chuckled as he recalled what essentially amounted to being Perine’s good-luck charm. “It became almost superstition for him where he had to find me so I could wear his jersey,” Padavil said. “It was real special for me, too, because he’s such a great young man.”
Certainly Perine must have done something wrong to get in trouble, particularly in high school. “Not one day,” Padavil countered.
Padavil also confirmed Perine’s post-game tradition of immediately locating his family and heading home while teammates and fellow students headed anyplace but home. “He knew someday soon he would be going to college, so he wanted to savor every minute with family,” Padavil said. “In school, he was friends with everybody, made all A’s in his classes and was always respectful. I don’t have a negative word to say about him.”
Gloria almost sounds apologetic discussing her son’s qualities and insists she has had little to do with it, though she undoubtedly has, along with her parents and her husband, Casey Barber, who is Perine’s stepfather.
“I really have to admit, I don’t know if all my stars aligned correctly, or God knew what I couldn’t deal with as a parent, but Samaje has been just a really great kid,” Gloria said.
|In the Rankings|
|1st||FBS freshmen in rush yards/game (131.6)|
|2nd||Seasonal rush yards by OU freshman (1,579)|
|T-2nd||200-yard games in a season at OU (3)|
|T-4th||Season rushing TDs in OU history (21)|
|T-5th||FBS players in rushing touchdowns (21)|
|7th||Season rushing yards in OU history (1,579)|
|T-8th||FBS Scoring (126 points)|
|9th||FBS players - rushing yards per game (131.6)|
|10th||Rushing yards by an FBS freshman (1,579)|
|at Iowa State||17||110||1|
|at Texas Tech||25||213||3|
Samaje Marquis Perine weighed 8 pounds, 12 ounces when he was born in Jackson, Ala., although he mistakenly told people he entered this world at 12 pounds.
“He was just an average-sized kid,” Gloria said. “I found out later when another mom said, ‘Oh, my gosh. No wonder Samaje’s so big. He weighed 12 pounds at birth,’ I was like, ‘What?’ ”
Shortly after moving to Texas at age eight, Perine was playing football and became interested in weightlifting. Gloria purchased some dumbbells at a local sporting goods store and quickly discovered her son meant business.
“One day I came home from work and he had closed the door to his room,” Gloria explained. “I heard some noise so I walked in. He had gotten some duct tape and had taped some bricks around the dumbbells. Instead of asking for more weights, he just added some bricks. All he had to do was ask.”
Perine said he simply added weight wherever he could find it. “I was trying to be creative,” Perine explained. “She hadn’t bought them too long ago, so I thought I can’t really ask for more weights right now because she had just gotten these. Extra bricks from when the house was built were right there, so I thought ‘I might as well use these.’ ”
That Christmas, Gloria got her son some more weights, but they were so heavy she couldn’t carry them into the house to giftwrap them.
Samaje Perine’s name, both first and last, has been butchered his entire existence. (The correct pronunciation is suh-MAH-jay P-rine.) However, there has been noticeable improvement since Perine set an FBS single-game rushing record with 427 yards against Kansas on Nov. 22 in Norman.
“I’ve heard (our name) called so many different things. No, it doesn’t bother me,” Gloria said. “I’m excited now, though. Everybody seems to get it right.”
There is no mystical translation or hidden meaning to the name “Samaje,” although some creativity was involved.
“We have a long history of Sams in our family,” said Gloria, who is the Area Manager of Apple in Austin. “My grandfather’s name is Sam. My father’s name is Sam. My brother’s name is Sam and his son is Sam. With Samaje, I wanted ‘Sam’ to be in there somewhere because we all have strong family ties, but I couldn’t just stop at ‘Sam.’ So we kind of landed with Samaje.”
He’s never been a follower. He knew in his mind what he wanted to do and was determined not to let anything get in his way.
Gloria Perine, Samaje's mother
Gloria tries her best to explain the inexplicable about her son:
His humbleness: “I just think that’s the way we are. He’s always seen us work really hard – myself, my husband (a software engineer at Spansion), my parents – we just put our heads down and work hard. At the end of the day, you feel like you’ve accomplished some great things and that’s why you work hard. There’s not a lot of talk. That’s just the way we all are and I’m very excited to see it translate to him. The thing I worry about is what if all the hard work doesn’t pay off, then what will his mindset be?”
His maturity: “He’s always been mature. He’s always kind of liked to be by himself, do his own little thing, make his own decisions. He’s never been a follower. He knew in his mind what he wanted to do and was determined not to let anything get in his way. While friends will want to go out, he prefers to stay at home. I’ve always thought, ‘This is awesome for me. I don’t have to worry because he’ll be at home.’ ”
His composure: “I am the excited one. I can’t hide my emotions. If I’m excited, everybody knows it. If I’m pissed off, everybody knows it [laughing]. My husband is the calm one. I think Samaje is a lot like him and my dad (Sam). My dad is low-key.”
Perine then did his best to explain the inexplicable about himself.
“I really haven’t known any other way,” Perine said. “I’m not the guy to try to take all the credit. I don’t know where it came from. I always try to give credit where credit is due, to give other people the spotlight that they deserve.”
Perine somehow finds good in everyone, even braggadocios players.
“I don’t really pay attention to it,” Perine said of self-centered athletes. “I (previously) played with a couple of guys like that. I just try to ignore it as much as I can because I know somewhere along the line, someone has told them that it’s all about them, that they’re the best there is, so I know it’s not totally their fault. I’d just rather not listen to stuff like that.”
Perine led the Big 12 with 1,579 yards rushing, more than half of which (791 yards) came in the last three games alone. He scored 21 touchdowns, a school record for a freshman; was named All-Big 12 First Team and Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year by the coaches; and was voted to All-Big 12 First team and AP Big 12 Newcomer of the Year by media. And yes, he earned a spot on the AP All-America Third Team.
Last week, Perine was chosen as the only true freshman among five finalists for the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, which recognizes the top FBS offensive player with Texas ties. Fans can vote once daily at www.earlcampbellaward.com. The winner will be announced Jan. 14 in Tyler, Texas.
In his record-setting performance against Kansas, Perine was taken out immediately after surpassing the previous record of 408 yards that had been set just one week earlier by Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. When word began to spread on the OU sideline how many yards were needed to break Gordon’s mark, Perine told anyone who would listen that he didn’t care about the record.
“The guy is just so exceptional in everything that he does,” Sooners coach Bob Stoops said after the game. “We were thinking about resting him, and then someone said he only needs 35 more yards, and you know, that's just too close not to do it, and there's too much time left in the game.”
In post-game interviews, Perine deflected attention to the Sooners’ massive offensive line, which had provided gaping holes throughout the game. In return, the entire line entered the interview room as a unit and gladly accepted any praise thrown their direction.
“I can’t speak highly enough of those guys, the work that they’ve been putting in over the season,” Perine said of the O-line. “We struggled a little bit at first. Once we really got going, those guys really bought into it.”
Sooners running backs coach Cale Gundy recruited Perine and OU was one of the first schools to offer a scholarship. “When they did I thought, ‘Oh, that’s cool,’ but we never really had thought about Oklahoma,” Gloria said. “It was pretty much TCU, Baylor and Alabama, but then we formed a relationship with Coach Gundy.”
Samaje was smart enough to know you’re going to have to compete wherever you go. You’re not just going to walk into an empty room.
Running Backs Coach Cale Gundy
The primary reason Perine chose the Sooners was because three running backs were departing in seniors Roy Finch, Brennan Clay and Damien Williams. Though the OU stable was hardly empty with quality sophomores in Keith Ford and Alex Ross and later added heralded freshman Joe Mixon, the barn at Alabama was overflowing with young running backs.
Before moving to Texas, the Perine family resided roughly 130 miles south of Tuscaloosa. “We all grew up big Alabama fans,” Gloria said. “He’s not the type of kid who just wants to hang around on a team. He wants to go where he thought he could help make an impact. In the end, it just kind of made sense to go to OU and I was pretty excited about it actually. He’s never afraid of competition. It just seemed like a better fit.”
Perine didn’t get many carries in high school because Hendrickson was so dominant, but Gundy saw plenty enough to make his judgment. “It doesn’t take you long to figure out that anytime a kid is averaging roughly 10 yards a pop, that’s pretty darn good,” Gundy said.
Gundy said he used the same recruiting approach toward Perine he uses with other running backs. “Samaje was smart enough to know you’re going to have to compete wherever you go,” Gundy said. “You’re not just going to walk into an empty room, but he liked his chances competing against younger players. I think just being up front with him, being honest and not promising him anything, I think he liked that.”
Perine said it was Gundy’s no-nonsense approach that sealed the deal. “All coaches are going to sugarcoat everything, but Coach Gundy really didn’t sugarcoat anything,” Perine said. “I liked his honesty, the honesty with all the coaches here really. You’ve got to work to prove yourself here, and I really liked that because coaches from other schools said, ‘You’re going to play, no matter what.’ The honesty here really caught my eye and made me like it even more.”
Given the results to date, suffice to say the Perine family is pleased about choosing OU. Gloria said she occasionally will send a text message to Stoops or Gundy that simply reads: “Thank you for coaching him. Thank you for helping take care of him.”
Senior offensive left tackle Tyrus Thompson recalls the first time he saw Perine in person. Thompson also played prep ball in Pflugerville, but at a different high school and had never met Perine.
“I thought to myself, ‘That is a big boy. That is a grown man right there,’ ” the personable Thompson said with a hearty laugh. (Keep in mind Thompson stands 6-foot-5, weighs 336 pounds and he’s the one commenting on Perine’s size.)
Teammates could not fathom Perine was 18 years old upon arrival. Junior defensive left end Charles Tapper and other teammates thought Perine was someone’s father the first time they saw him.
“I thought maybe he was a college transfer from somewhere else,” Thompson said.
Seems odd to suggest, but Perine might have had a more impressive game against West Virginia than he did setting the FBS single-game rushing record against Kansas.
OU’s 45-33 victory against the Mountaineers in Morgantown was a slobber-knocker, a hard-hitting affair during which Perine pounded out 242 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 34 carries. He averaged 7.1 yards-per-carry and his longest scoring run was 19 yards.
The game against the Jayhawks on Owen Field was more of a track meet, where Perine often outran defenders once he got past the line of scrimmage. He averaged 12.6 yards-per-carry and had touchdown runs of 47, 33, 34, 66 and 27 yards.
Oddly enough, Gloria claims her son often seeks contact because he doesn’t think he’s particularly fast. (Tell it to Kansas.)
“He’s got a little bit more speed than you’d think,” Thompson said of Perine. “That guy can scoot. He’s a running back for a reason. Otherwise, he might be a fullback.”
Gundy said of the Kansas game, “The neat thing was everybody got to see that the guy is kind of fast.”
Perine, however, is still not convinced. “I still don’t think I’m fast,” Perine said. “Speed is not my greatest asset, but it makes due. It’s something that I’ve been working on. It seems to be getting a little better, but I have to continue to work on that. I like to work on what I’m not very good at.”
Does Perine truly seek out contact? “Um, I don’t run away from it, if that’s what you’re asking,” Perine said.
His legs are the size of his upper body. There’s just not a very good place to get (tackle) him.
Running Backs Coach Cale Gundy
Should an opposing player happen upon Perine head-on, chances are good that defender will end up on his hindside.
“His legs are the size of his upper body,” Gundy said, explaining why Perine excels upon impact. “There’s just not a very good place to get (tackle) him. He’s just so powerful and has great balance, plus he has excellent feet. It really does make it hard to bring him down.”
In three seasons at Hendrickson High School, Perine amassed 4,966 yards rushing on 568 carries (8.74 yards-per-carry) and had 44 touchdowns. On the final drive of the last game his sophomore season, Perine suffered severe damage to his left knee, tearing the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and lateral collateral ligament (LCL), but he returned in time for his junior season.
Since that injury, Perine has made adjustments to protect his legs and knees as best he can. The solution was “How low can you go?”
“I really can’t explain,” Perine said of what makes his running style so effective. “I’m not the tallest guy, so my center of gravity is pretty good. I tend to get pretty low. Even if you’re trying to go for my knees and ankles I’ll usually drop my shoulder pads and that’ll be what you’re hitting instead of my knees. There are a couple of pictures I’ve seen where I’m pretty much on all fours. That’s just how low I get. I really don’t recognize it when I’m doing it. When I go back and watch film, it’s just crazy to see. I’ve become really protective of my knees. It’s just a natural instinct once I had knee surgery in high school. I try to get as low as I can to protect them.”
Thompson acknowledges Perine’s toughness and fortitude, but insists that’s not what makes him so good.
“He runs with a really low center of gravity, but I think the best aspect of his game is the mental part of it, knowing where the hole is going to be, knowing how to fit it, where it should open up, where the soft spot in the defense is,” Thompson said. “He’s the easiest guy to block for. You know once he gets to the second level (past the line of scrimmage), he’s going to do something with it. He’s phenomenal.”
As the 2014 season grew longer, the spotlight intensified on the borderline bashful Perine, who still granted interviews despite being uncomfortable with all the attention.
Though more exposure and Heisman Trophy consideration could be forthcoming if he continues on his torrid pace, Perine is determined to not change as a person while somehow learning to acknowledge the praise. “It does make me feel very awkward,” Perine said. “I’m trying to get used to it and hopefully I never will get totally used to it.”
Gloria also hopes her son remains unchanged, but it’s hard to stay humble when you achieve so much.
“I think about it,” Gloria said of her son being able to maintain his modest disposition. “Every time he’s moved to up to a new grade or to a new school, he’s always had success. He’s always worked hard for a new opportunity, so this really isn’t anything new. I tease him a lot about how he never gets excited, how he never shows emotion. I guess that’s a good thing. I’ll ask him, ‘How you feelin’? How you feelin’?’ He never gets too high, never gets too low. That’s important because this game is crazy. One day you’re a hero, the next day you’re a zero. So it’s important for him to keep that level. And I think he will. I think he’ll forever keep that.”
He never gets too high, never gets too low. That’s important because this game is crazy. One day you’re a hero, the next day you’re a zero. So it’s important for him to keep that level.
On his final carry of the regular season, the seemingly flawless Perine proved he is neither perfect nor indestructible. “He’s human, too,” Thompson said of Perine. “You can’t be perfect all the time.”
With 5:51 left in the third quarter and the Sooners leading 28-14 against Bedlam rival Oklahoma State on Owen Field, Perine was gang-tackled at the OSU 29-yard line. He fumbled, turned an ankle and didn’t return. His leg elevated and his ankle heavily wrapped in ice, Perine sat on a bench with his face buried in both hands for several minutes.
Asked if he was more upset about the fumble or getting hurt, Perine without hesitation said, “The fumble. It’s still eating me up right now (one week later). I’m not much of a fumbler. I don’t take that too lightly.”
There was a palpable shift in momentum after Perine’s first career fumble led to his exit.
Before he left, Perine had 151 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. After his departure, the Sooners rushed for 73 yards on 25 carries with 56 of those yards coming on a Keith Ford’s dash up the middle early in the fourth quarter that helped set up OU’s final score.
The Sooners (8-4) will face Clemson (9-3) in the Russell Athletic Bowl at 4:30 p.m. in Orlando on Dec. 29.
But if there’s anybody who thinks there’s any possibility of him missing a game against the nation’s top-rated Clemson defense.
“It’s making progress. I’ll be ready,” Perine vowed.
Who would dare doubt him?