UCLA had practiced with Myles Jack at running back for “about five minutes,” the freshman said via telephone this week, in addition to a brief walk-through.
So when Jack, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound starting linebacker, was told on the sideline during UCLA’s 31-26 victory Saturday at Arizona that he was about to go into the game on offense, he was a little surprised.
“I didn’t expect to actually do it,” Jack said, “but we just ran out and did it. And it just worked.”
Yeah, it did. Jack, a Bellevue High School graduate, took the first six carries of his college career for 120 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown run that solidified him as a Pac-12 Conference player of the week candidate ... on offense. Which he won.
He was also nominated on defense, but his eight tackles, two pass breakups and fumble recovery weren’t quite enough to land both honors.
That Jack is making national headlines for his play as a freshman – and that he’s doing it just as the University of Washington comes to town for a Friday game in Pasadena, Calif. – underscores the sting felt by Huskies fans over Jack’s decision not to stay in-state.
There have been a handful of heavily recruited local players who chose not to attend UW in recent years – Josh Garnett (Stanford), KeiVarae Russell (Notre Dame), Max Browne (USC). And, too, there are a few-dozen players from Southern California on the Huskies’ roster, proof that this one-who-got-away stuff works both ways (Keith Price, Sean Parker, John Ross, Jaydon Mickens).
But it’s difficult for UW fans to watch Jack excel on both sides of the ball as a freshman without thinking he’d look better in purple and gold.
“Obviously, we recruited Myles hard,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. “As hard as we could. It was a choice that he made to go to UCLA. It’s a good school, a good program, a good coach. Just like they have a player from Washington here, we’ve got quite a few good football players from L.A. that are on our team.
“Kids make the choices, they make them in the best interests of what they think is best for them and their future and their family, and you put your roster together and go play.”
Of the Huskies, Jack said, “I definitely gave them a lot of consideration, staying home and being close to my mom and little brother.”
But UCLA felt right.
“I think it was just Coach (Jim) Mora, the coaching staff and the direction of the program,” Jack said. “I liked what I saw from them, their development throughout the season. I could come in and contribute wherever they need me and help the team win games for the next four years.”
Mora’s long-standing relationship with Jack couldn’t have hurt. He said this week that he first met Jack when he was 12 years old, shortly after Mora, like Jack, had moved to the Seattle area from Atlanta.
Jack’s recruitment was highly publicized. His Scout.com biography lists offers from most of the Pac-12, as well as South Carolina and Georgia Tech, among others. And Jack was a little different – instead of demanding he play offense like most high school stars, Jack was insistent that he wanted to be a linebacker in college.
That’s why Mora said he’ll monitor carefully Jack’s workload at running back, stating emphatically that “he’s a linebacker.”
“When you get carried away and you use a guy in too many different spots, they lose their effectiveness in all spots,” Mora said.
But if offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone calls his name, Jack will come running. With the ball.
“If Coach Mazzone throws that in the game plan, I’m definitely with it,” Jack said. “If they say, ‘Myles, we really need you go in,’ I’ll do it.
“It’s for the team. So whatever they ask me to do, I’m ready.”
UW AT UCLA: 6 p.m. Friday, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif., ESPN2, 950-AMchristian.firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @ChristianCaple