UCLA's Paul Perkins can move up single-season rushing list

UCLA running back Paul Perkins runs with the ball during the first half of a win over Washington on Nov. 8.
UCLA running back Paul Perkins runs with the ball during the first half of a win over Washington on Nov. 8. (Stephen Brashear / Associated Press)

Paul Perkins sits on the verge of individual achievement, something he doesn't care much about.

UCLA's sophomore running back can shoot up the record-book charts with another big day against Kansas State in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2.


Perkins has 1,381 yards rushing, which puts him sixth on UCLA's single-season list.

He needs 26 yards to move into third place. A big day, 191 yards, would leave him second behind Johnathan Franklin, who ran for a school-record 1,734 yards in 2012. Perkins had a career-high 190 yards against Oregon, one of his five 100-yard games this season.

Perkins' main goal: "I want us to be a top-four program and get in the playoffs."

Others are taking delight in the number of yards he grinds out each game, particularly those on an offensive line that Perkins endlessly praises.

His team-first attitude is appreciated, among other qualities.

"It always nice to know that the guy behind you is going to give it all he has," center Jake Brendel said. "You can see that in just the hits he takes. A lot of backs in this conference are shaky; they don't go downhill a lot. They are finesse guys. He has the speed, he has the finesse, and he also has power behind it."

Perkins' drive is what won him a starting job during training camp.

Said running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu: "We went through who was going to be the first guy and he said, 'Coach I'm going to keep working and when all is said and done, I'm going to work my way into being that guy.' He never wished anything bad on anyone else, he just wants to be the best."

Perkins has run for 1,954 yards in his UCLA career, leaving him 2,449 yards behind Franklin's school record of 4,403.

"He really understands the relationship between blocking and running," Polamalu said. "His collision balance has really improved."

Perkins said that before each play he runs through his mind, "the pre-reads, what the defense is doing, what coach has been stressing." And then?

"At a certain point, I'm just running for my life," Perkins said.

If there is one individual achievement Perkins is proud of, it has been disproving the notion that he doesn't have breakaway speed.

He had an 80-yard run, but was caught from behind against Texas. He had an 81-yard run against Oregon but couldn't get to the end zone.


The breakthrough came against Colorado, when Perkins bolted 92 yards for a touchdown on UCLA's first play.

"Finally finding the end zone gave him the confidence that he had enough speed to outrun people," Polamalu said.

It is the one personal indulgence Perkins allows himself.

"No one believed in my speed so I had to prove people wrong," he said. "I have faith in my legs."


The Christmas break means one big thing to quarterback Jerry Neuheisel.

"I'll have the annual golf match where my dad will kick my butt and show me there is one sport where he's still better than me," Neuheisel said.

Rick Neuheisel, a former UCLA quarterback and coach, has an annual foursome with his sons, Jerry, Jack and Joe.

"My dad and Joe are the only ones who get to play all the time," Jerry Neuheisel said. "So it ends up being Jack and I hanging out while those two go at it."

As for competing against his eldest son, Rick Neuheisel said, "All I can tell you is drive for show, putt for dough. If it were a home-run hitting contest, the kid would clearly win. But you don't get to hit the ball to right and left field. It's all center field, and that's where I take him, and I take him consistently."