GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Lamical Perine‘s freshman season at Florida started so inauspiciously that he didn’t know what to expect at that point.
After a standout fall camp in which he willed his way into Florida’s already crowded timeshare at running back, Perine then fumbled his first carry on the first drive of the season opener against Massachusetts.
“I wondered how my season (was) going to end up, man. I didn’t know what to expect. I was nervous. I didn’t think I was going to play anymore during the season,” he said Monday, reflecting back on that moment. “But the week after I just came in, pushed myself in the weight room and worked hard in practice and came back and did pretty good.”
That he did.
Perine left that fumble in the rearview mirror while finishing second on the team with 421 rushing yards on 91 carries, averaging 4.6 yards per attempt.
He expects more from himself in 2017, though.
“I feel like it was pretty good. I feel like I had a lot of big plays I missed out on this year,” he said. “I just feel like I came back this offseason a little stronger and a little determined to get better.”
The competition for carries hasn’t gotten any easier, though.
Junior Jordan Scarlett returns as the Gators’ lead back after a breakout 2016 campaign (889 rushing yards, 6 TDs) and senior Mark Thompson will look to bounce back from a lackluster debut season at Florida while building off a big performance in the Outback Bowl. Also, the Gators add two intriguing freshman running backs this summer in Adarius Lemons and Malik Davis.
Perine says he doesn’t mind that competition.
“All of us want carries, man. I feel like that’s going to better us every time,” he said. “So (when) one of us is going, we’ve got to motivate each other and keep on pushing because we feel like we’re the drive on the team, on the offense. We’ve got to make big plays. …
“We feel like we’re all big-time backs. Every time we get in it shouldn’t be any different. That’s what Coach Seider says. We’ve got to keep working like that.”
Change in the Florida wind
Ja’Juan Seider arrived this offseason from West Virginia to become running backs coach, with Tim Skipper moving to defense to work with the linebackers.
Perine was recruited out of Theodore, Ala., by Skipper and says nothing has changed with their relationship as they still talk all the time. But he has embraced the new voice in the running backs room as well.
“It’s all about technique with Coach Seider. Even when you make a big run it’s the little details that he teaches and I feel like as a group we’re good and we build off that everyday,” Perine said. “After we make mistakes we go in the film room and build on it, try to get better.”
Perine admitted the speed of the college game — especially in the SEC — was an adjustment for him, but he showed a lot of promise as a freshman.
He flashed his potential while taking advantage of extended opportunities in a couple early blowout wins, going for 105 yards on 17 carries against Kentucky and 106 yards on 11 carries against Missouri. His best moment, though, might have been his physical 22-yard run in the fourth quarter at LSU as he dragged a pile of defenders all the way to the 4 to set up an eventual field goal.
With the Gators expected to turn the offense over to one of their young quarterbacks this year, they will again need to lean on their ground attack.
Perine doesn’t know how many carries that will mean for him, nor is he focused on that.
“Everybody’s going to get their share of carries,” he said. “You’ve just got to know what to do when you get them.”