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Przybylo: OU's Samaje Perine was a rare breed

In today's era of 'look at me,' Samaje Perine stands out in the crowd.

It was just like every other run at Oklahoma by Samaje Perine. Nothing special to it, just another quality 15-yard gain.

But it wasn’t just another 15-yard run. It was the record run. Perine entered last week’s Sugar Bowl against Auburn needing 83 yards to become OU’s all-time leading rusher.

He was at 71 yards with just under six minutes to play when he stiff armed one defender, broke the run to the outside, stiff armed another one and earned 15 yards.

4,122.

Billy Sims had been king for more than three decades at 4,118 yards, but Perine’s run puts him at the top of an incredible list when you think about OU’s tradition at running backs.

Billy Sims, Adrian Peterson, Joe Washington, DeMarco Murray, Steve Owens – it feels like a never-ending list in Norman. Now there’s Perine who stands alone.

Maybe crazier than that is the fact Perine did it in three years and did it while never being fully healthy for a whole year during his three seasons.

And did it by never changing who he was.

Perine was a nice part of OU’s 2014 class, but far from what you would call the cornerstone or the crown jewel of the group.

A torn ACL during high school kept some schools away from the Pflugerville (Texas) Hendrickson recruit. In the end, it was down to OU, Alabama and TCU, and he committed during the spring of 2013.

He wasn’t assuming then, and he never became an assuming person, at least off the field with the media. The closest attempt to learning about Perine was through his love of superhero socks as he seemingly has a pair of any hero you can imagine.

On the field, in the locker room, in the weight room, that was another story. OU eventually landed the five-star piece to the 2014 class in running back Joe Mixon.

Perine never flinched. In today’s era of recruits being afraid of competition, Perine didn’t budge. Mixon could have his turn, too, but it wasn’t going to scare away Perine from the opportunity.

As a freshman, Perine burst onto the scene at West Virginia in his first start and became a national name with a 427-yard performance against Kansas. That mark still stands as the all-time single-game record for rushing yards in a game.

Nicknames were coined. P-Rhino. Optimus Perine. Mr. 427. Eh, none of them stuck. He was still just Samaje, that was always good enough for him.

His adjustment period would continue heading into his sophomore season when head coach Bob Stoops brought in offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. The goal was to return to OU’s former glory of the Air Raid, which felt like could mean the end of Perine as a big-time player.

It could have, but it wasn’t. Riley has mentioned repeatedly he has never met anybody as unselfish as Perine because it could have been, heck, maybe should have been a tough transition.

Perine took it in stride. Mixon returning for the 2015 season meant the splitting of carries. No problem there, either.

The duo worked about as well as any one-two combo has in Norman, culminating in this year with both of them rushing for more than 1,000 yards.

The record never meant a lot to Perine, but quarterback Baker Mayfield and the offensive line were determined to make it occur. If anybody deserved the moment, it was Perine.

Mayfield was the first to hug Perine after the record-setting run. Then Mixon came. Then Stoops came. And pretty soon the entire team was tapping him on the helmet and celebrating. Stoops gave the ball to Perine following the play.

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It was a fitting end for Perine. The record set in an impressive 35-19 victory against Auburn in the Sugar Bowl that let people know the Sooners don’t lack in the physicality department.

Perine declared for the NFL Draft the very next day. OU fans aren’t griping about it. They’re not sad. Perine earned this right. He’ll go down as one of the best players in OU history and maybe one of the most loved.

His selfless acts on the field. His quiet demeanor off the field. The way he carried himself set an example for those who are following him.

It’s unclear where he exactly falls on the totem pole of top running backs coming out for the draft. Somebody is going to take a chance on him. And when that team does, you can best believe it won’t regret it.

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