With the Heisman Trophy in Sight, UCLA's Myles Jack Is Shooting for the Stars

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterJuly 21, 2014

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Why not?

As Myles Jack readies for his sophomore year as UCLA’s star linebacker, he is fully aware of what we’re saying. He hears the whispers of “Charles Woodson” and “Heisman," and he doesn’t run from them. He runs toward them, through them or over them, depending on the circumstances.

“If you shoot for the Heisman and you don’t get it, you really can't be disappointed,” Jack told Bleacher Report. “It’s possible, and I’m definitely going to try and reach it.

“Why not?”

Why not Myles Jack, who is tipping the scales at 230 pounds after playing much of his freshman season right around 215? Jack admitted that he played “light” in 2013, although it certainly didn’t appear that way. When you consider the fact that he clocked in at 4.52 seconds in his latest 40, his potential comes into focus. 

Then you remember he hasn’t celebrated his 19th birthday yet, which is a reminder of just how old you are and how much room he has to grow. And, despite the complexity of his situation, the growing will come at linebacker.

He proclaims his love for defense whenever he can, a mentality that aligns with his skill set. With his physical gifts, love of contact and closing speed, he'll play linebacker professionally.

"Coming out of high school and a great program at Bellevue we thought he was advanced enough physically to play at UCLA," 247Sports national recruiting director JC Shurburtt told Bleacher Report. "But we did not expect him to be at such a level to do what he does."

As one of the nation’s premier high school prospects, Jack was courted by many of the nation's best programs to play linebacker and running back. Some saw him on offense, including a handful of SEC schools that tried to lure the Washington product across the map. Others saw his future at defense.

“I wanted to play linebacker, so I cut those schools off,” Jack said on recruiting.

But he didn’t completely rule out the possibility of playing running back at UCLA, especially as the injuries started to mount for the Bruins in 2013.

As Jack acclimated to college life and the defensive playbook, flashing glimpses of stardom at his position of choice, he was pulled out of a defensive meeting as the team readied for Arizona in a critical Pac-12 game. It was at this moment the mystique of Jack started to take shape.

Jack was told that he could see some snaps at running back, and he was given one simple halfback dive to process. Although it was unique from his routine, he didn’t think much of it leading into the game. In fact, he thought the coaches were joking.

“I kind of blew them off,” Jack said, laughing as he thought back on the conversations.

The coaches, however, were not joking.

After coming off the field on defense in the second quarter against the Wildcats, Jack found out at that exact moment that these conversations leading up to the game were authentic.

“The next thing I know, someone is grabbing me, pulling me on the field,” Jack said. “I was nervous. I just looked at the sticks, and I said to myself, ‘Myles, you can get a yard.’”

He got the yard and 28 more. The coaches responded by doing exactly what any sane football mind would have done.

Give him the ball again. And again. And a few more times.

Jack carried the ball five times before the fourth quarter, asking quarterback Brett Hundley which way he should run on each carry. Hundley, who couldn’t help but crack a smile, used his thumb to tell Jack which direction he should run. It wasn’t a perfect system, but goodness was it effective.

With the game close in the fourth quarter, Jack took his final carry on 3rd-and-2 as UCLA looked to put the game out of reach. He made one move to find a hole—a move you simply don’t see out of many running backs, let alone linebackers filling in—and he was gone.

For the game, Jack finished with 120 yards on six carries. He also recorded eight tackles and a fumble recovery on defense. In roughly 90 minutes, a Heisman campaign was born.

The following week, he carried the ball 13 times and scored four touchdowns against Washington. The week after, Jack ran for 86 yards and scored again in the Bruins’ loss to Arizona State.

All told, he carried the ball 38 times, scored seven touchdowns and averaged seven yards per carry for the season. His workload decreased over the final two games, and he logged only one carry in the team’s Sun Bowl win against Virginia Tech.

He did, however, find the end zone in that game, thanks to an interception he took back the other way. He also added a sack, showing off the full spectrum of ways he can impact a game.

I suppose this is the perfect time to remind you that the Pac-12’s Offensive and Defensive Freshman Player of the Year—yes, he won both—is still 18 years old. He will turn 19 a few days after UCLA opens against Virginia.

“Last year I was playing and just reacting, and it worked out,” Jack said. “But I missed out on a lot of opportunities that I would have capitalized on if I had the knowledge that I do right now.”

A lot has changed for Jack in the last year. Not just physically or his football acumen, but with his everyday life. At this time in 2013, he was relatively unknown beyond recruiting junkies, hopefully optimistic that he would see the field in some capacity.

Now, he can no longer get to class without hearing the praise from the student body. He admits he enjoys it, but he also recognizes how different things are, how much work there is still to be done and the sudden rush of expectations.

The attention isn’t just limited to the student body, either. Kennedy Polamalu, UCLA’s new running backs coach, is becoming an increasingly familiar fixture in Jack’s life. Polamalu’s resume of coached running backs includes Fred Taylor, Maurice Jones-Drew and Reggie Bush for starters, and he’s been sure to remind Jack of this often.

“Every time I see him, he will recruit me to play running back,” Jack laughed. “He throws those names at me and says I could be one of those, and it’s hard to pass up. It’s an offer I can’t say no to, but one I have to say no to.”

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Last season, Jack ran for UCLA out of necessity. Injuries hampered the UCLA backfield, forcing the coaches to play defenders in unfamiliar positions. Eddie Vanderdoes, the team’s monstrous defensive tackle, found the end zone against USC on a one-yard run. Holes were plugged, and the results were overwhelmingly positive.

With the backfield healthy again and options aplenty, Jack’s role has still yet to be defined. The defensive part is a given, and he’s expected to be a fixture on one of the most athletic units in the country.

But he will get carries; it’s just a matter of how many and in what capacity. Jim Mora, his head coach, has already made that clear.

.@Mike_Yam: Will Jack be on offense this year? Mora: "He’s gonna touch the ball on offense. Don’t know how many times, but he’ll touch it."

— Pac-12 Networks (@Pac12Networks) April 28, 2014

Whether his workload is comparable to last season or something more will depend likely on the productivity of the position early on.

“With the guys we have right now, they don’t need me. It’s really all on the coaches," Jack said. “Whenever they’re ready, I’m ready. I want to do it again if it’s possible.”

The defensive numbers will be there. 

He should blow by his total of 76 tackles from a season ago and also add sacks and interceptions, something he proved he was capable of early on. Regardless of the fans suddenly swarming him on campus, the coaches recruiting him long after he’s committed and the columns highlighting his unique situation, he is still fine-tuning at his position.

“Right now, I’m focused on trying to become the best defensive player in the country.” Jack said.

This is where it will remain, on his job and on a team positioned for a College Football Playoff run. But if the production comes from both sides of the ball and UCLA finds itself in the Top 10 come November, a run at the Heisman could take shape.

“I’m all about shooting for the stars,” Jack said.

After all, why not?


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