UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, top, celebrates his touchdown with offensive linesman Caleb Benenoch during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Memphis, Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. UCLA won 42-35. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, right, celebrates his touchdown with offensive linesman Caleb Benenoch during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Memphis, Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. UCLA won 42-35. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
LOS ANGELES — Myles Jack admits he still doesn't always know exactly what he's doing with the football in his hands.
Jack is a linebacker by nature and training, and No. 12 UCLA's dual threat would prefer to be hitting somebody instead of getting hit. When the Bruins ask him to carry the ball, he relies on athleticism, his high-school instincts and a bit of on-field instruction from quarterback Brett Hundley to get where he's supposed to go.
"I understand more what I'm doing in my second year as a running back," Jack said. "It feels good to get to play with the offensive line that you're normally going against every week in practice."
After Jack made a 4-yard touchdown run and a career-high 13 tackles in last week's win over Memphis, UCLA (2-0) is likely to put the ball in his hands more frequently this weekend when the Bruins face Texas in the Dallas Cowboys' massive stadium. Coach Jim Mora is ready to unleash the two-way star who could end up being the talented Bruins' most dangerous player on both sides of the ball.
"It's a delicate dance, because he's such a great linebacker," Mora said. "As I've said all along, you can't take away from what he does best and make him average at two things. But Myles is a weapon. He's fun to watch run, no doubt about it. ... I would like to continue to expand Myles' role in our offense, and I think we will. I know he would like that."
A lesser player might find it daunting to try to measure up to Jack's freshman season, when he was named the Pac-12's top newcomer on defense and offense despite not carrying the ball until the Bruins' ninth game of the season. Jack racked up 267 yards and a team-leading seven touchdowns in UCLA's final five games, averaging more than 7 yards per carry — all while making 75 tackles and excelling in pass coverage as a game-changing linebacker.
Jack loves the thrill of being a tailback, but he isn't interested in a full-time position switch: He prefers being a linebacker, and he wants to play both ways. He also notes that the Bruins already have two talented ball-carriers in Paul Perkins and Jordon James.
"It's not for me, or personal accolades or anything," Jack said. "It's just where the team needs me. Whatever they ask for, I'm down for. I'm not asking for any extra plays or anything like that. Whenever they need me, I'm ready for it. Just call my number."
Although Jack was recruited by several SEC schools as a running back out of high school in the Seattle suburbs, he chose UCLA for his closeness to Mora and the chance to play on a quality defense. He didn't really believe the Bruins had him in mind as a ball-carrier until the day before his debut against Arizona, when he rushed for 120 yards on six stunning carries.
One season later, Jack still doesn't practice or study with the offense. He just asks the coaches and Hundley where to go.
"If you watch the game film, you'll see me telling him," Hundley said with a laugh. "Myles is a freak of nature. You just tell him to go left or right, and he'll find the hole."
Yet Jack realizes he can be even better. His first two carries of his sophomore season exemplified his evolution.
The first time he got the ball in the first quarter against Memphis, Jack forgot to bounce his run outside the line and got stopped up the middle. When the Bruins went back to him in the third quarter, he followed his blockers to the goal line — and then ran over a Memphis defender for the score.
Jack's focus remains squarely on defense, where he has taken on an even bigger role with the departures of Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt to the NFL. Although Jack changes games with the ball in his hands, the Bruins thrive when he contributes from both sides.
"To be honest, I like him on defense," Hundley said. "He's a great defensive player for us. But when he's in the backfield, just to let him do what he does, which is to get touchdowns, it's nice as a quarterback just to hand him the ball."
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