Perine ready to run

OU's freshman running back steps to center stage after injury

From the day Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel first saw Samaje Perine on the recruiting trail, he knew he could contribute immediately as a freshman.

The burly strong running back, who maxes out on the bench press at more than 400 pounds, looks the part of a primetime college running back.

He saw his first action in the Sooners’ first game of the season and led the Sooners in rushing yards, and Heupel officially knew what Oklahoma had. By the end of his third game, Perine had nearly three dozen carries under his belt.

Now, he’ll need to do even more. With No. 1 running back Keith Ford sidelined for up to three weeks with a slightly broken fibula, Perine will have to take on a more enhanced role.

The general consensus is that he’s ready.

“Samaje hasn’t blinked an eye since opening day,” Heupel said.

Although it is likely that sophomore running back Alex Ross will make his second start of the season, it will be Perine who could earn a bulk of the carries.

Through this point in the season, Ross has 132 yards compared to Perine’s 177. Ford led the team with 194 yards but had 100 yards receiving and a team-high six touchdowns thus far.

Ross has the game-breaking speed, with two touchdowns of 80 yards or more, but Perine has been far more consistent out of the backfield – much like Ford, who had a 5.7 yard per carry average.

“I just came in and adjusted to the speed of the game, and you know, my running style has stayed the same for the most part,” said Perine, whose bullish style hides his sub-4.5 40 speed. “I just go out there and try to find the hole and run through it as fast as I can.”

Perine was born in Alabama but grew up in Plufgerville, Texas. He started playing football then, around the age of eight, but he wasn’t a running back until high school. He played on the defensive side of the ball, lining up at middle linebacker and defensive end.

Maybe it was there that he learned the physicality of football.

“When you watch him on tape, you see how powerful he is,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “For sure in high school, you saw it.”

Stoops somehow lured him away from Alabama, Perine’s favorite team growing up.

There was just something unique about Oklahoma. Norman also came with a chance.

“Coming here, there's no other place like it,” Perine said. “Just the family aspect of it, and I saw better opportunities at early playing time here. Not that I don't like challenges, but … I felt that my opportunity would be better here.”

Perine probably never thought he’d have this early of a chance. In the Big 12 Conference opener Saturday against West Virginia, he could be the feature back of a national championship contender.

Why would he? He came to Norman in the same recruiting class as the No. 1 high school running back in the country.

Very quickly though, Perine’s work ethic spoke volumes, and he came in ready to run after setting his high school’s record in the weight room – on the bench press, the power clean and the incline.

“I've never been the juking type,” Perine said. “I leave that to the smaller guys. I'm not gonna even try something like that because I'd mess around and hurt myself. I just lower my shoulder.”

Running isn’t the problem for Perine when it comes to replacing Ford, who limped off the field in the second half against the Volunteers. It’s the pass blocking and the receiving that he’ll have to pick up quickly.

Perine hasn’t done much blocking in a game and is just getting his feet wet in the passing game. He caught his first pass against Tulsa and hauled in a 13-yard screen against Tennessee.

His position coach, Cale Gundy, has taught him to pick up the blitz, and the rest of the coaching staff has complete confidence that he can do the rest.

“He’s a really good pass protector. He catches the ball well out of the backfield,” Heupel said. “He’s a complete player.”

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