Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Are we too jacked up for Myles Jack?
By Kevin Gemmell
"At first it was flattering," said UCLA dual-threat Myles Jack. "Now it's getting to be a little overbearing."
By the time the 2014 season has come to an end, UCLA's Myles Jack will have tallied 20 sacks and eight interceptions, run for 25 touchdowns, won a Heisman, a national championship, dropped a Grammy-winning album, rescued 17 kittens from trees, cracked Kryptos and will have single-handedly brought balance to the force. The chosen one, he is.
What? Too much? You wouldn't think so the way the national media has bowed at the altar of this dual-threat sophomore.
No doubt about it, America is jacked up for Jack. He's a full-time linebacker, a part-time running back and college football's preseason darling. And the expectations on the second-year player have proliferated without him playing a snap since UCLA's Sun Bowl victory (to be fair, he did have a pick-six in that game).
"It's impossible not to be aware of it," Jack said. "I won't lie. I can try to hide from it all I want. But I know it's there. I'm aware of it for sure. But I can't let that change me. I can't put pressure on myself. Football is a game. That's how I treat it. I don't make it anything more than that. I'm trying to have fun with it all.
"At first it was flattering. Now it's getting to be a little overbearing. I can't wait to get the season underway and get all of the talk out of the way. I'm ready to play. Hopefully it will simmer down. But it probably won't."
In other words, slow your roll.
Jack is on almost every preseason All-America team (including ESPN.com's), even though we haven't seen him play a game without first-round draft pick Anthony Barr, who occupied a lot of attention last year, opposite him. He's been dubbed a Heisman darkhorse and a Heisman favorite, even though it's a quarterback-driven award and he hasn't thrown a single pass in his collegiate career (not yet, anyway, but he's only a sophomore).
Linebacker Myles Jack rushed for four touchdowns against Washington last season.
"I think he's handled it extremely well," said UCLA coach Jim Mora. "He hasn't changed a bit. He's never going to be able to live up to those expectations. It's almost impossible. All we want from Myles is to be the very best Myles Jack he can be every day. If he can do that, that's good enough for me."
Jack is a budding superstar. There's no denying it. And he captured national imaginations last year when he switched to the offensive side of the ball and busted out with a 120-yard rushing performance (including a 66-yard touchdown) in a 31-26 win in Tucson. A week later he washed it down with four rushing touchdowns at home against Washington.
Twitter -- and America -- had no idea what hit them.
"I'm thankful for the appreciation," Jack said. "I appreciate people admiring what you do. I think that's really cool. All the extra stuff and the expectations, I can't really control any of that."
Adding thermite to the discussion is the fact that UCLA is a top-10 team headlined by SI cover boy Brett Hundley. The Bruins are the favorites in the Pac-12 South and a trendy pick to win the conference and possibly a national championship.
But here's a head-scratcher: What if Jack is just a really, really good cover linebacker? He's not asked to do the sorts of things that Barr was. Barr was a bona-fide pass-rusher, a backfield menace. Jack makes his bones at or above the line of scrimmage, not behind it. What if Jack finishes the year with 85 tackles and four or five picks and the occasional rushing touchdown?
"I'm happy with that," Jack said. "That's a solid year for me."
Will the hype machine be happy with that? "Probably not."
Right now, much of Jack's hype is based on potential. One UCLA coach recently told the Pac-12 blog that Jack has "done things on a football field I didn't know were possible." But contrast that to the hype of Hundley -- a three-year starter who has been a character guy and led his team to a South Division championship. Hundley has earned his hype. Jack doesn't believe he has.
"Not yet, I don't think so," Jack said. "I've had one season. I feel like I've gotten better. And I had a great first season. But my mindset is that that season is over. If I don't do anything year, no one will care about what I did my first year. I won't even care what I did my freshman year. My goal is to get better and have a better sophomore year."
Mora does his best to shield his players from the outside noise. But he also understands where the Jack craze is coming from.
"Whether he's earned this attention isn't for me to decide," Mora said. "It is what it is. Personally, I think all hype is overblown myself. But he's the first player in conference history -- maybe national history -- to win offensive and defensive freshman of the year. With that comes some hype."
No one is looking to spit on anyone's Cheerios. No one is being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian. Jack himself admits a lot of what's been written and said about him -- while a boost to his ego -- is simply overblown.
"I'm not looking for any encores," he said. "I've worked really hard this offseason. Right now, all I can do is go out on the field and show people how hard I've worked. And hopefully we'll win. Because at the end of the day that's the most important thing. My only expectation is to play better than I did last year."