Oklahoma fans knew the Sooners had a special running back for the Class of 2014. They knew he was going to make an immediate impact as a freshman.
Only it turned out to be the other guy. An off the field transgression forced highly touted Joe Mixon to sit and watch, suspended from the Sooners for the season.
It gave Samaje Perine a chance to show what he can do with the ball. And he’s not about to give it up anytime soon.
Perine’s final rushing attempt in OU’s win last week gave him 1,001 rushing yards this season. It was brought up in the locker room, but Perine said it doesn’t really matter.
The first OU back since DeMarco Murray in 2010 to reach that mark. The first OU freshman to accomplish the feat since that one guy named Adrian Peterson in 2004. But as Perine has done with everything else at OU, he’s just taking it in stride.
“Samaje has been exceptional,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “I’ve said it a lot, but I’ll say it again because it’s a compliment to him – just how mature he is beyond his age.
“He really conducts himself in every part of his life like he’s a senior. He’s a great worker, very serious and diligent in preparing, and in the way he practices – the strength and conditioning – the way he works is really special.”
Perine has already surpassed the number of carries he had last season at Pflugerville (Texas) Hendrickson.
You can argue what’s the most impressive feat of Perine’s season. Is it averaging 5.6 yards per carry? Scoring 14 of OU’s 30 rushing touchdowns? Out of 180 attempts, only having 13 yards lost? It’s not shocking to those who know him the best.
“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” Pflugerville Hendrickson coach Chip Killian said. “We knew, from his time here, how much of a hard worker he is. We’re incredibly proud of what he has been able to do so far.”
Through it all, Perine has maintained that humble demeanor that helped introduce him to the national spotlight with his showcase outing at West Virginia.
He was praised for buying the offensive linemen pizza after that performance, and Perine did it once again this week. Another sign of how much gets it.
Because he has never forgotten how close he was to never having it. Perine tore his ACL and MCL as a sophomore at Pflugerville Hendrickson, and he had no idea how he would recover from everything.
Following an outstanding junior season, he was fully on OU’s radar at running back. The debate raged on about who was OU’s No. 1 choice for the class between Mixon and Nathan Starks. OU was afforded that luxury to play things out until the end because it already had Perine in the bag.
Perine, who has roots in Alabama, was also offered by the Crimson Tide. But he knew the quickest path to the field was to head to Norman and committed in the spring following his junior season. Turns out he was right on the money on that one.
It started immediately with Perine.
“You realize that when you have your older players really marveling at how he works and how strong he is in the summer, you know you’ve got something really special,” Stoops said.
After his coming out party in Morgantown, it was obvious he wasn’t going to be overlooked anymore. It was also obvious his knees were going to take some shots.
Perine’s greatest asset has been his ability to shake off would-be tacklers and gain huge yards after contact. You’re going to look foolish going high on him so defenders were going to go low.
And Perine took a nasty shot against Iowa State three weeks ago that momentarily shook the freshman.
“Only because it was my knee so it scared me a little bit,” Perine said. “Once I saw I could walk and was fine, I was back. It’s always in the back of my mind (about guys going low), but I just have to go out there with a clear mind and do what I need to do.”
Nicknames have been thrown around from calling him “Tank” to “Optimus Perine,” but Perine likes just being known as Samaje more than anything else. His running style, though, it makes sense why everybody wants to anoint him with some sort of moniker.
“You’re either the bug or the windshield,” Killian said. “Samaje likes being the windshield. He enjoys putting the punishment in early in the game because when the fourth quarter comes around, nobody wants to mess with him.”
Case in point was last week in Lubbock. Perine had 31 yards on nine attempts in the first half before ending with 213 yards on 25 carries and three touchdowns.
His power on display as was his underrated speed on a 64-yard touchdown run. Perine has become the total package for the Sooners as a runner and blocker.
“Just keeping my feet moving,” Perine said. “We had to go out and make plays on our own. And I feel plays like that, when you know it’s looking mucky, you just have to go get what you can get. It speaks a lot for that player and that team.”
This whole season has spoken a lot about Perine and why OU fans are so excited for what’s to come in the future.