The Pac-12’s leading rusher and Heisman contender you refuse to acknowledge wants to make one thing abundantly clear.
“I can do it all,” he says, drenched in confidence. “I have the whole repertoire. Anything. I’m not messing around.
“This is the real deal.”
There are a few things you should know before proceeding any further.
For starters, the Pac-12’s leading rusher last season wasn’t Royce Freeman at Oregon, or Devontae Booker at Utah, or Javorius “Buck” Allen at USC or Nick Wilson at Arizona. It also wasn’t two-way star Myles Jack, whom many pegged as UCLA’s best running option before the season began.
It was Paul Perkins.
While his name may prompt more Google searches than instantaneous praise, the 5’11", 198-pounder’s performance last year has demanded respect. Despite not being a nationally known commodity just yet, Odds Shark has Perkins listed at 20-1 odds to win the Heisman. Only 10 players have better chances than that.
The second thing you should know is that Perkins wasn’t just hyping his ability on the football field. He was talking up his superior culinary range.
Yes, the running back who models his style after the violence of Marshawn Lynch, the vision of Jamaal Charles and the general football absurdity of Adrian Peterson would be the overwhelming Heisman favorite if the giant bronze trophy took kitchen aptitude into consideration.
When he isn’t working tirelessly on his game, Perkins is concocting meals that far surpass the ramen noodle specialties you whipped up in college.
His thirst for culinary knowledge is unquenchable. He peruses Pinterest for new recipes. He asks mom and dad for new cooking options. Regardless of the time of year, he’s always dreaming up that next great dish.
“Salmon in lemon sauce, rice, green beans,” Perkins says, diagramming one of his favorite meals. “And, of course, strawberry lemonade.
“I have to keep it on the down low, though. I can’t have everyone not paying for the food and expecting me to cook.”
Star running backs typically don’t cook gourmet cuisine, although this is where things get complicated—not because of his passion in the kitchen, but because “star” is a floating label in this instance.
Coming off a season in which he ran for 1,575 yards and averaged 6.27 yards per carry—all while doing so for a UCLA program skyrocketing past once-reserved expectations—Perkins should be discussed with the sudden abundance of great backs, particularly the ones he outrushed close to home last season.
|Pac-12 Leading Rushers in 2014-2015|
|D.J. Foster||Arizona State||1,081||5.57|
“We have great running backs in this conference,” Perkins said. “I’m not really so big on the praise, but I’m grateful for the love and looks.”
Heading into the 2014 season, the two Bruins garnering Heisman consideration were quarterback Brett Hundley—Perkins' childhood friend—and Jack, who was expected to play linebacker and running back.
Because of UCLA’s perceived lack of options at the position, Jack was supposed to play a significant role on offense and gobble up carries. But long before anyone else saw the potential, Jack recognized that he might not be needed.
“With the guys we have right now, they don’t need me,” Jack told me last July as his offensive profile was blossoming. He was right.
After back-to-back respectable performances to start the season, Perkins broke out against Texas in the team’s third game. With Hundley knocked out early due to injury, the offense sputtered.
As the second half began, however, Perkins finally broke free and jumpstarted the Bruins with a 58-yard scamper. That rush set up a Bruins touchdown to level the scores at 10-10.
“We didn’t have much momentum,” Perkins said. “Coming out of half—and even though I didn’t score—it was a confidence boost.”
The Bruins would go on to win, 20-17. Perkins, virtually unknown at the time, finished with nearly 200 yards from scrimmage. While his development was gradual, this was the turning point.
In the 10 games that followed, Perkins cracked the 90-yard mark eight times. He also exhibited his abilities as a pass-catcher. His four catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns against Cal in October proved to be crucial in a two-point victory.
To close out the season, Perkins delivered the best game of his career against Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl. His 194 yards rushing on only 20 carries paced the Bruins comfortably over a quality team.
Even with Hundley’s departure to the NFL, UCLA is in a prime position to carry the momentum forward and crash through yet another ceiling.
“I feel like the sky is the limit,” Perkins said. “We have all the parts to do it. We’re getting more depth and more experience. We can go as far as we want.”
The loss of his quarterback is significant beyond the obvious. Hundley, despite unrealized Heisman hopes, was a tremendous collegiate player. He was also extremely close with Perkins.
The pair grew up together in Arizona. They ran track together for the Arizona Cheetahs Track Club. They played youth and high school football together. More recently, they decided to play at UCLA together.
And while the loss is noteworthy, quarterbacks Jerry Neuheisel, Asiantii Woulard and blue-chip frosh Josh Rosen have all flashed considerable promise. At times during the spring, according to Perkins, you couldn't tell who was delivering throws.
“He was a great quarterback and he’s a good friend,” Perkins said of Hundley. “Whenever you lose such an intricate part of the offense, it’s really hard to replace him. But I think we’re doing a great job of finding a replacement and I have a great relationship with all of the quarterbacks. It’s going to be just like having Brett back there.”
Hundley's departure leaves a leadership void the UCLA coaches have encouraged Perkins to fill. It’s a reasonable, understandable request—especially for a young man who sounds remarkably confident in what he’s doing—but it’s also an unnatural transition of sorts.
Perkins has always been a “lead by example” guy, although now he’s starting to embrace a new voice with the coaches' encouragement and his growth within the program.
“I feel like I have enough respect throughout the team that people will take what I say to heart,” Perkins said. “Whatever my role has to be in this offense to win a national championship, I’ll do that.”
For UCLA to take the next step, Perkins needs a repeat performance of last season. In fact, he will likely have to be even better. For him to have this opportunity, one of three quarterbacks he’s currently helping groom will need to exceed expectations. This is by no means out of the question.
And for a Heisman to creep closer into the equation, Perkins and the Bruins will both have perform at an elite level all year long.
If that happens this season, then the star running back will get the spotlight he deserves.
The Heisman votes, undoubtedly, will follow.
“It’s a motivating factor in the offseason, but once football comes around, I have to worry about my team—my family,” Perkins said on increasing his profile. “Competing for a Heisman is always there, but I have team goals I need to accomplish first. And if a Heisman comes along, so be it.”
After another exhausting day of class, reps, weights and film, the nation's greatest player-chef is ready to embrace his true calling. Before he can get to the Heisman ceremony in New York City or the team’s opener against Virginia, Perkins needs to conceive another meal.
What’s tonight’s main dish, you ask?
“Probably a peanut butter and honey sandwich,” Perkins says as the confidence cooled to room temperature. “And some sleep."
There is a beauty in staying simple, at least every once in a while. Sometimes the greatest meals are the ones that go unnoticed.
Adam Kramer is the National Lead College Football Writer at Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand.