Sports REDIRECT SECTION: college football

Stardom comes at a price for UCLA's Myles Jack

UCLA's Myles Jack was doing an interview, one of many since the freshman linebacker added running back to his chores and became a college football phenomenon.

Teammate Eddie Vanderdoes saw this as his cue.

"Man, we were walking on campus after the Washington game and everyone was yelling, 'Myles! Clickclack Jack! Boobie!" said Vanderdoes, a freshman defensive end. "All the women were swooning."

Jack, his voice rising in mock anger, barked back, "That's just rude!" and pleaded, "None of that happened. Eddie was seeing things."

Vanderdoes walked off, chortling.

Jack doesn't live under a microscope these days. He resides in a petri dish.

Be it "Boobie" (a reference to Boobie Miles, a character from "Friday Night Lights") and "Clickclack Jack" (his Twitter handle) or just plain old "Myles," he is examined.

Moving Jack from linebacker to running back was hardly groundbreaking. But running him and also keeping him at linebacker was a bold experiment.

Jack became a made-for-TV miniseries. He had 120 yards in six carries, one a 66-yard touchdown sprint, in the Bruins' 31-26 victory at Arizona. He followed up by scoring four touchdowns against Washington.

Suddenly, everyone knew Jack. Or at least wanted to.

Calls from talk-radio stations flooded in. Television crews descended on the campus. A photo of actor Chuck Norris wearing Jack's No. 30 jersey made the rounds on Instagram.

"As a kid, you see other people getting all that attention," Jack said. "You have no idea what that is like until it's yourself. I try to ignore the noise. You've got to step away from it, go take a nap sometimes."

The week after the Arizona game, Jack was on a cellphone doing a radio interview. Vanderdoes sauntered by, stopped and struck the Heisman Trophy pose.

Everyone gets a dig in.

"It's going to be cool to say, 'Yeah, I played next to Myles Jack,' " linebacker Jordan Zumwalt said, laughing. Then, turning serious, Zumwalt added, "The guy is going to be a superstar."

What most impresses Zumwalt is how Jack has dealt with the fame.

"There are a lot of traps that come with that," Zumwalt said. "Shoot, I think back when I was a freshman, man, that would have been a lot of pressure."

Few freshmen were as prepared for college football as Jack.

UCLA coaches were talking about his potential on offense only two weeks into training camp. His potential as a linebacker was already established.

"Everybody wants to come in and be the man," Zumwalt said. "When it actually happens, it's kind of surreal."

Jack's mother, La Sonjia, noticed his passion for football early. Jack carried a football with him everywhere, even slept with it.

"I won't tell you how old he was when he stopped," she said.

Jack would run around the house 100 times, come inside for water, and go back out to run some more. And there was the time Jack couldn't find his football at bedtime and "we had to tear up the house to find it," his mother said.

When not at practice, Jack trained on his own. When it rained, his mother pulled the car out of the garage so he and his little brother, Jahlen, could work out.

"I have so many orange cones, I could open an orange cone store," she said.

She learned how much the game mattered when Myles was 8.

"I was in the kitchen washing dishes and there had been a lot of talk about concussions," La Sonjia said. "I asked him, 'What if Dad and I said you couldn't play football because it's dangerous?' He said, 'You know, Mom, if I couldn't play football then I shouldn't do anything else on this earth.' "

Jack starred at Bellevue (Wash.) High as a running back before growing into a linebacker — 6 feet 1, 225 pounds. Some colleges wanted him as a linebacker, others as a running back. UCLA was in the linebacker group.

"I assumed, as a freshman, he'd get a little playing time," La Sonjia said.

Instead, Jack was in the starting lineup the second game of the season, playing in front of 90,000 at Nebraska. He showed he was a fierce tackler with the speed to cover wide receivers.

It was Jack who saved the Bruins in their Pac-12 Conference opener, intercepting a pass at the five-yard line with 16 seconds left to preserve a 34-27 victory over Utah. He sprinted upfield, with the end zone in front of him, then followed orders and dropped to the ground so the offense could run out the clock.

"I thought that may be my only chance to get a touchdown," Jack said.

Little did he know.

UCLA running backs kept being injured and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone had long coveted Jack. The week before the Arizona game, he wedged an opening with Coach Jim Mora.

"I asked if we could put in a little something for goal line or in case we needed to run the clock out," Mazzone said.

Jack had been resisting a move to offense but agreed.

"They kept at me and said they had a package to run if we were near the goal line," Jack said. "I figured I could get a couple yards. Well, we were at midfield when they called for it. I looked at them like, 'Are you crazy?' "

Jack's first carry was a 29-yard run. His touchdown run in the fourth quarter gave UCLA breathing room.

"It morphed into more because he was so successful," Mora said.

Jack became the story. After the Washington game, the phrase "freak of nature" was tossed around a lot.

"It's the offensive line blocking," said Jack, who has 267 yards rushing and seven touchdowns in four games. "I just run through the hole.

"I'm a linebacker. I like hitting people."

Too late, the ironman angle stuck. He was selected the Pac-12's defensive and offensive freshman of the year.

"He has handled the limelight well," Zumwalt said. "He embraces it, but he is so humble about everything."

Vanderdoes is the only other UCLA freshman who understands how harsh the media glare can get. He became a focal point last summer when he sought to get out of his letter of intent with Notre Dame so he could play for UCLA.

"It is kind of annoying sometimes," Vanderdoes said. "You just want to be left alone to do your job and not have that spotlight on you. Myles knows I went through that. That's why he hates it when I tease him."

And tease him he does.

Jack spent the summer calling Vanderdoes "Mr. Five Star" because of his high ranking on recruiting websites. Jack had earned a four-star rating.

"Not anymore," Vanderdoes said. "I told him he took all my stars. He's a nine-star guy now."

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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