Thursday, October 18

After high school career in Hundley’s shadow, Perkins shines at UCLA


Redshirt sophomore running back Paul Perkins shared a friendship with redshirt junior quarterback during their days together on the Arizona Cheetahs youth track team. Now the two share a backfield and 1415 yards. (Austin Yu/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Redshirt sophomore running back Paul Perkins shared a friendship with redshirt junior quarterback during their days together on the Arizona Cheetahs youth track team. Now the two share a backfield and 1415 yards. (Austin Yu/Daily Bruin senior staff)


On UCLA’s opening play in its 40-37 win over Colorado this year, redshirt sophomore running back Paul Perkins took the hand-off from his own eight-yard line and sprinted down the left sideline and away from everyone, landing in the end zone 92-yards later.

It’s a sight that is quickly becoming regular to the rest of the country.

For Brett Hundley it’s one all too-familiar.

“(Hundley’s) fast,” Perkins said. “But I’m faster.”

To his credit, UCLA’s redshirt junior quarterback didn’t contest the claim.

“(Perkins) was always faster,” Hundley said with a laugh. “So I stuck to the field events.”

Nowadays, the pair plays together on college football fields, but theirs is a friendship that dates back to grade school, when the two were members of the Arizona Cheetahs – a youth track team.

From there, the duo went from spending time together on the track to the backfield, where they each started for Chandler High School in Chandler, Ariz.

While Hundley and Perkins often line up yards apart from one another, they took different routes to get there.

***

At Chandler, Hundley was a star. In his 25 games playing for the Wolves he was responsible for over 6,000 total yards of offense and 57 touchdowns en route to becoming one of the most coveted prep prospects in the nation.

He was a consensus four-star and top-100 prospect and had offers pouring in from schools in the Pac-12 and around the country before eventually signing with UCLA.

“I was just happy for him, happy to see one of the Chandler kids get all the accolades and all this glory,” Perkins said.

But as for Perkins’ own offers, they were few and far between.

While Hundley was a can’t-miss prospect, nearly everyone missed Perkins.

He was rated a three-star prospect by Rivals and Scout, and a two-star prospect by ESPN. He was Rival’s 40th best athlete and Scout’s 85th highest cornerback.

During the regular season of senior year, a season in which he ran for 20 touchdowns, nearly 1,300 yards and more than nine yards per carry, Perkins merited offers from New Mexico, Air Force and Montana among others.

“I know he had looks but it wasn’t like big-time looks,” Hundley said. “And it sort of boggles me … (but) I think sometimes people fail to realize that there’s a lot of talent and it’s all about getting the looks.”

Despite being named a first-team all state selection, Perkins wasn’t recruited by either Arizona or Arizona State, the same school his father Bruce played for from 1988-1990 and the one his newly-committed younger brother Bryce will play for as a dual-threat quarterback.

And while Perkins is now terrorizing Pac-12 defenses, Colorado was the only other school in the conference to extend a scholarship offer to him.

“It didn’t really matter to me, I just went out there and worked,” Perkins said. “It’s fine, I get to take it out on them whenever I play the Pac-12 so I’m just happy I got the opportunity to come here.”

***

Part of the reason Perkins and Hundley now share a backfield is because they didn’t do so all that much in the signal-caller’s final season at Chandler.

Perkins carried the ball just 44 times in his junior year, playing the majority of his snaps as a defensive back.

Though the scouts that flocked to see Hundley got just glimpses of Perkins, at least one person was sold on his ability to play running back at the collegiate level.

“He was a different type of running back. I knew there was something special there, and I’ve surely known that for my whole life,” Hundley said. “Thank God we offered him at UCLA (because) now he’s here doing big things for us.”

Following a 35-34 win over Westview High School in the first round of the state playoffs, a game in which Perkins ran for 91 yards and two scores on 15 carries, the offer finally came.

Hundley told his high school teammate about life at UCLA and made it known to Perkins that he thought the running back would make a great fit at the school.

“I wanted him to come here, no doubt. I knew he would be something really special and he would really fit in this offense,” Hundley said. “I wasn’t trying to force him to come here or anything but just to tell him how UCLA is.”

As it turns out Hundley wasn’t the only person in Perkins’ ear about heading west.

“They called me and they offered me, and my mom was like, you got to take that … It was kind of a quick decision,” Perkins said. “My mom was pushing it, she was like you got to go, you got to go to UCLA.”

While Hundley sold Perkins on UCLA and the offense, Perkins’ mother, Ore, wanted Paul to go to a school that was far enough away from home but still close enough for her to watch her son play.

A month after receiving the offer, Perkins committed to the Bruins.

***

For those who know Perkins, his emergence as one of the nation’s top backs isn’t altogether surprising and those bursts up the middle and down the sideline aren’t unexpected.

“He’s been patient, he’s been a hard worker – typical stuff for guys having years like this,” said offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. “I’m proud of how he has come in and his improvement from year one to now has been really what you want all your guys to be like.”

As of now Perkins sits seven rushing yards short of the 1,000 yard mark, good for second in the conference and 12th in the nation.

More importantly for the Bruins, he has alleviated some of the pressure off of Hundley as his emergence as a steady threat out of the backfield has forced defenses to not focus solely on the quarterback.

Together, the former high school teammates have assembled one of the top quarterback-running back tandems in college football.

“He’s just such a ferocious runner – it’s a deadly mix between speed and power and athleticism,” Hundley said. “So he can for damn sure make you miss in the open field. I don’t think I’ve seen one person tackle him in (space).”

This season, Perkins has made that even more difficult for the schools that missed out on him. He has put together his three top rushing performances against conference opponents and is currently averaging eight yards a carry against Pac-12 defenses.

Still, he insists there isn’t any extra motivation going against those teams. He’s comfortable where he is.

“I always play with a chip on my shoulder, that’s just how I am,” Perkins said. “It doesn’t matter who recruited me. I’m just happy to be where I’m at now.”

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