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Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Big 12 school leads for 2014 RB

By Max Olson

PFLUGERVILLE, Texas -- Adrian Peterson suffered a torn ACL and MCL in December 2011. So did Samaje Perine.

One of them went on to win the NFL's MVP award and nearly broke the all-time rushing record. The other? Well, he had a pretty good comeback year, too: 2,017 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.

So it didn’t surprise the Pflugerville (Texas) Hendrickson running back to hear those comparisons come up during his junior day visit to Oklahoma this month.

Samaje Perine
Class of 2014 tailback Samaje Perine has offers from Oklahoma, Tennessee, Houston and Purdue, among others.
“That was all they talked about at OU, how I compared with Adrian Peterson,” Perine said. “I thought that was pretty nice.”

Will the 5-foot-11, 213-pound rusher follow in Peterson’s footsteps all the way to Oklahoma? That’s beginning to look more and more likely. The Sooners have offered and are the front-runner to land a pledge from Perine.

“Right now, OU has a big advantage just because of their numbers and the opportunities there,” Perine said. “But we’re just going to see how it plays out.”

When Perine visited Norman, Okla., this month, he was the only running back recruit on campus. He spent the day one-on-one with assistant coach Cale Gundy, who made it clear he’s hunting for multiple backs for his 2014 class.

“They’ve been telling me that if I went there it would be the right time to go, just because they’re graduating three guys,” Perine said. “They need to sign two for my class, they only got one [in 2013]. So that’s a big positive for me. The time would be right to get a starting job if I work hard enough as a freshman.”

Damien Williams, Brennan Clay and Roy Finch are entering their senior seasons. Perine is well aware that OU just inked the No. 1 back in Texas, Keith Ford, for its last class, but he likes his chances.

Perine has long been an Alabama fan and plans to attend the Tide’s junior day on Saturday. But he’s a bit more wary of their numbers situation, particularly after four ESPN 150 backs just signed with the program.

“I love the school. I love the atmosphere they have,” Perine said. “But they have a lot of running backs. They are running back heavy. I’m all for competition, but that’s ...”

It’s quite a battle. Perine knows he’ll be in for one wherever he goes. After the season he just had, though, he isn’t lacking in confidence.

Perine tore his ACL and MCL late in the season finale of his sophomore year. When his junior campaign began, he was a bit tentative his first two games, yet still ran for a combined 236 yards and two scores.

It took getting stopped on the goal line a few times and taking some good hits to his legs for Perine to know he was ready. He told coach Chip Killian he was ready to up his workload.

“The thing about Samaje is, he gets stronger as the game goes on, so you feel bad about limiting him,” Killian said. “He was really running strong.”

Killian charted his carries and tried to keep Perine at 25 a game. Still, he demanded the rock, even finishing one game with nine straight carries. The results: Perine surpassed 200 rushing yards in six games, including four straight to finish the season.

“The season was great,” he said. “Didn’t have any problems with my knee. I was a little timid at first, but once I got the first hit out of the way it was all good from there.”

Killian is surprised the offers didn’t start pouring in midway through the season, but interest has picked up significantly. While Baylor’s efforts to land Perine have dropped off in recent weeks, TCU has stepped up. Perine will visit Fort Worth in March, and he said LSU recently reached out.

He’s looking forward to being the next in an impressive line of Hendrickson backs. Daje Johnson enjoyed a breakout freshman season as a running back/receiver at Texas, and his predecessor Kenny Williams led Texas Tech in rushing in 2012.

The hard work Gundy has put in to recruit Perine has him thinking about a similar future in the Big 12, and the coach has also expressed interest in two Hendrickson teammates, quarterback Xavier Conley and athlete Jordan Washington.

“[Gundy]'s a great guy. Straightforward. Doesn’t sugarcoat anything,” Perine said. “He knows what he wants and tries to go get it. Their whole coaching staff, I think that’s the most impressive thing about OU.”

A native of Choctaw Bluff, Ala., Perine has had his eye on playing for Alabama for a long time. But the Sooners have surprised the kid who used to get called “SEC” by his coaches, and they’ve certainly got his attention now.

“It all depends on the best opportunities I have,” he said. “But they’ve come hard for the past couple of weeks."