UCLA's Myles Jack has what it takes to play the field

UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone walked into practice this week with his arm around freshman linebacker Myles Jack, whispering sweet somethings into his ear.

"He was hinting at some offense stuff that would include me," Jack said.


Jeff Ulbrich, hearing the rumor, smiled ... a chilling smile, but technically a smile. The linebackers coach with the mountain-man appearance had three words to say, "No…no…no."

The recruiting process ends when a player signs … for most. When you're a Jack-of-all-trades, though, the wooing continues.

The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Jack is a linebacker, and is going to be a linebacker. Ulbrich gets him. But his skills are too bountiful to ignore.

"I was just talking to him about our goal-line offense," Mazzone said.

Yeah, sell it to Ulbrich.

"What do I like about Myles, besides being big and fast?" Mazzone said. "I like his barber. He has a nice haircut."

Let the tug of war begin.

"Not at all," Ulbrich said.

The Bruins' 2013 class is chock-full of freshmen who will contribute this season.

Caleb Benenoch will line up at guard. Defensive ends Eddie Vanderdoes and Kylie Fitts will arm-wrestle with offensive linemen. Destiny awaits Jayon Brown, Tahaan Goodman and Priest Willis in the secondary. Receiver Darren Andrews has too much speed to sit still for a year.

And so on.

But the most intriguing Bruins' freshman is Jack, who grew up pining to be a running back, then learned a basic fun fact.

"I enjoyed hitting more than getting hit," Jack said.

He'll get his chance.


It became clear during training camp that Jack needed to be on the field. A reminder came Thursday in practice, when Jack lined up one on one with a slot receiver, moved in sync with him, then intercepted the pass.

"Our offensive guys think he's a freak," said Coach Jim Mora.

It has led to other possibilities for Jack.

Last week, he lined up to return kickoffs.

"How would you like to run down and see that coming at you?" Mora said.

Mazzone has plans, as well. He has employed defensive players in goal-line situations before. Datone Jones and Cassius Marsh both played tight end last season, and both caught touchdown passes. And they are lumbering defensive ends. Jack was a member of the state champion 400-meter and 1,600-meter relay teams as a senior at Bellevue (Wash.) High School.

"We see the guy playing inside linebacker, outside LB, playing in the dime [package]," Mora said, then inhaled, and continued. "He can go out and cover a slot receiver. He can return kicks. He could probably be one of the best running backs around here."

But, Mora said, "We have to make sure we use him the right way."

Jack thought he knew the right way. As a kid, he would watch St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk go and dream … literally.

"My mom gave me a football when I was little and I would sleep with it," Jack said. The ball was his bedtime companion, "until I was 10 and my mom started making fun of me. But I still walked around the house with it."

Jack settled in as a running back for Bellevue as a sophomore.

"Then I grew," he said.

He went from under 6 feet to 6-1 and beefed up, from 175 pounds to 225 pounds. Linebacker was added to his duties.

"I had a sack against Glacier Peak," Jack said. "That was one of those 'ah-ha' moments."

Trouble was, Jack also had a 62-yard touchdown run in that game.

As a senior, Jack had another sack-happy moment in a spotlight game against Euless (Texas) Trinity, killing a late drive. He also had a 66-yard touchdown run and a 41-yard gain in the 31-24 overtime victory.

Linebacker, though, was where his heart was by then. Jack had six sacks during a 45-0 playoff victory over Lincoln … in the first half. He had 24 sacks his senior season.

Recruiting services rated Jack as a top-10 linebacker. He still couldn't distance himself from running back. One service ranked him as the eighth-best big running back in the nation.

UCLA coaches have a share-and-share-alike philosophy, so despite Ulbrich's grumbling, he is on board with Jack playing some offense … eventually. What is clear is Jack has to play.

"Some guys kind of beg for that redshirt year," Ulbrich said. "They want a year to acclimate to the college game. He is the exact opposite. He needs to be on the grass. We got to find a role for him."

Even if it's on offense.

"No," Ulbrich said.

Ah, but it's coming, though Mora is tapping the brakes.

"The last thing we want Myles to go into the first college game thinking, 'OK, I'm playing outside linebacker and dime and returning kicks and they have a goal-line package for me,'" Mora said. "I think that would be a little overwhelming for a true freshman."

But what about a true freshman with a couple games under his belt?

"He's a big, powerful runner," Mazzone said with the anticipation of one awaiting a steak dinner.

Said Mora, "That's just Noel. He wants everybody."

Well, it's not just Noel.

Asked about Jack, receivers coach Eric Yarber said, "Oh yeah, that dude is an athlete. He can play anything he wants to play."

So Yarber will approach Ulbrich?

"Are you kidding?" Yarber said. "And get him mad at me?"

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