Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Jack refocuses after his two-way showcase
By Ted Miller
Myles Jack's star turn as a two-way player last weekend during UCLA's 31-26 win at Arizona sent ripples across the college football nation. He was featured on ESPN, and just about everyone now knows the freshman's name. When he flipped on his phone after the game, he estimated he had received 90 text messages.
The Bruins' flight from Tucson landed in L.A. at 3 a.m. Sunday, which gave Jack pause over calling his biggest fan. But his mom, La Sonjia, had provided strict instructions to call.
|UCLA's Myles Jack isn't letting the hype affect his play.|
"When I called her, she was wide-awake, excited," Jack said. "I think it was the most excited I've heard her be about a football game. That was what got me the most -- seeing how proud my mom was with how I played."
She should be proud, as Jack turned in one of the season's best performances. After all, how often is a starting linebacker named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week?
Playing offense for the first time this season, Jack rushed six times for 120 yards -– including a 66-yard touchdown run on a key third-and-1 play in the fourth quarter. On defense, where he's been the Bruins' No. 4 tackler, he had eight tackles, a tackle for loss, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery in the end zone.
Jack described things since Saturday as "hectic" and a "whirlwind," and it seemed that he, as much as anyone, was ready to move on. Hype can be fun, but it also can become a distraction. Jack already has been given advice by the Bruins' veteran star players, including QB Brett Hundley and OLB Anthony Barr.
"Just ignore the noise," Jack said. "Stay focused. There's plenty of games to go. Our sights are bigger than just winning one game. We're trying to win Pac-12 championships."
Next up for the Bruins in their quest for the Pac-12 South Division title is Jack's hometown team: Washington, which is making a rare Friday night visit to the Rose Bowl. Jack starred for Bellevue (Wash.) High School as a running back and defensive end and was highly recruited nationally. Suffice it to say, Huskies fans are still mourning his decision to head south to Westwood.
But the Huskies' recruitment might have been doomed when UCLA hired Jim Mora after the 2011 season. Mora and his wife had become friends with Jack's mother shortly after she transplanted from Atlanta to Seattle. Mora's son, Ryder, played football with Jack's little brother, Jahlen.
Mora was immediately impressed with the already yoked up budding high school freshman, and Jack was transfixed by his brother getting football advice from the former coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
"He coached the Falcons, and I had watched him on the NFL Network every morning before I went to school, and then I see just him up there watching the games," Jack said.
Jack called it an "eye-popper" when Mora was hired by the Bruins. Jack had already been offered by then-UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, and Mora quickly called to say the offer stood. Jack said when he made his visit, he knew he wanted to go to UCLA, so he committed early in June 2012.
It's one game. I'm not taking anybody's spot on offense. I'm still a defensive player. If coach asks me to come in on third-and-1, I'll be more than happy to come in there.
-- UCLA's Myles Jack,
on taking snaps on offense
Mora recruited Jack as a linebacker, where he wanted to play, but many schools offered him as a running back. Among recruiting services, there was no unanimity on how much or how quickly Jack would contribute. He received three stars from ESPN recruiting, which noted, "Overall, Jack may be falling under the radar some due to the fact that he does not project high at one particular position and may need some adjustment time before he makes an immediate impact."
Instead, Jack's problem in his true freshman season is projecting highly at two positions. While that's a pleasant problem to have, it is an issue that needs to be managed. Running back and linebacker are taxing, physically demanding positions. Both wear a body down. The idea of Jack becoming a full-time, two-way starter isn't even being entertained.
"You've got to be careful," Mora said. "He's an 18-year-old freshman, and his plate is pretty full. We have to make sure we move methodically. My experience has told me you get carried away sometimes. When you get carried away and use a guy in too many different spots, they lose their effectiveness in all spots."
Part of the reason Jack saw action at running back is injury issues at the position. Starter Jordon James has been struggling with an ankle injury, though Mora said he expects him to be close to 100 percent for Washington. Damien Thigpen and Steven Manfro are both questionable for Friday.
That probably leaves Jack as a situational RB, as he was against Arizona, along with Paul Perkins and Malcolm Jones, though a lot depends on whether James returns to his early-season form when the Bruins' running game was strong.
For Jack, he'll do as he is asked, though he has repeatedly made it clear that he's a linebacker first. He prefers to deliver a blow rather than take it.
"It's one game," he said. "I'm not taking anybody's spot on offense. I'm still a defensive player. If coach asks me to come in on third-and-1, I'll be more than happy to come in there."
His coaches probably will be more than happy to see him again tear through an opponent for a big gain on third-and-short a few moments after making a third-down stop on defense.