Meet UCLA's Myles Jack, college football's budding two-way star

Myles Jack and the Bruins defense scored three times in a tight win over Virginia. (Getty)
Myles Jack and the Bruins defense scored three times in a tight win over Virginia. (Getty)

LOS ANGELES -- One NFL scout called him the best athlete in the Pac-12. Myles Jack would settle for being UCLA’s best linebacker on a given day.

This being L.A. you’re only as good as your sequel. Jack, then, must have quite a second act ahead of him. Last year he was the Pac-12’s defensive and offensive freshman of the year. The dual distinction was earned with some late running back appearances in 2013.

“This year I don’t want to say I’m going to top my freshman year,” the Bruins’ sophomore linebacker said. “I don’t want to put any pressure on myself. I was just out there having fun. I was just out there playing.”

Jack is still in the head-spinning stage. That unnamed scout on NFL.com considers him better athletically than Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, better than Stanford’s Ty Montgomery, better than USC’s Leonard Williams.

The compliments, projections are a frying pan to Jack’s face. Except that he isn’t flinching -- much. The goal coming in from Bellevue, Wash., was just to fit in with Bruin linebackers Anthony Barr, Jordan Zumwalt and Eric Kendricks.

“Anthony’s in the league. Jordan’s in the league. Eric is going to the league,” Jack said. “The situation that I’m in, I’m learning from the three best guys I could possibly learn from. I’m trying to learn from the tradition that they left.”

The difference between learning and leading is a fine line. Jack turned 19 only last week. His looks already project to television where he one day wants to be an analyst. The kid wasn’t just a fill-in at running back last season. Sure, Jim Mora Jr. needed help after injuries thinned his backfield but no one expected this: Jack led the Bruins in rushing touchdowns (seven), pass break-ups (11) and had the second-most tackles ever by a UCLA freshman (75).

Think about that: A Bruins’ freshman linebacker scored more rushing touchdowns than five teams last season.

On Saturday, he returned to his dual-threat role scoring his first touchdown of the season with a run against Memphis. That, along with a career-high 13 tackles.

Two-way, all-day?

“We would like to expand his role,” Mora told reporters

It has been a less-than-inspiring season for the Bruins. They head to Jerry World this week for a neutral site game against Texas undefeated but with questions. That defense that scored three times against Virginia gave up 35 points to Memphis. The offensive line has had trouble protecting Brett Hundley. All of it has led to a slightly underachieving vibe for the Bruins.

Jack is an offensive option because he has the body and will to do it. His 230-pound frame fits easily into either backfield. In high school he was tailback exclusively through his sophomore season.

Her son’s extra duties are “as much as a surprise to the world as it is to me,” said La Sonjia Jack.

She has no problem these days serving as her son’s de facto spokesman.

“I’m a mom who is extremely proud,” La Sonjia said.

She’ll tell you about the game film Myles began breaking down -- at age 7. The kid would get up at 6 on Saturday mornings to do drills.

“Myles is a kid who didn’t play video games,” she said. “I used to look in the backyard he’d have the whole neighborhood doing drills.”

After the bust-out 2013, La Sonjia purchased insurance for her son -- almost unheard of for a freshman. She did research, consulted with UCLA compliance and covered her son with the Lloyd’s of London policy that protects him against serious injury and loss of value in the NFL Draft. A draft -- it should be noted -- that is at least two years away.

“I did my homework,” said La Sonjia, an executive with MicrosoftStore.com. “To be honest with you, going to UCLA we thought he’d get a few plays. He’s 17 years old. It turned into something quite different than we expected. As a senior business executive, I wanted to make sure he was protected.

“It’s kind of like you protect your car. He’s protected the same way.”

Circumstances congealed late in ’13. The story didn’t start to take shape until Game 9 against Arizona. Offensive Noel Mazzone mentioned something off hand about taking a few snaps on offense.

Jack was plucked out of a defensive meeting the night before the game to participate in an offensive walk-through.

“Wouldn’t even practice the handoffs or anything,” he said.

“I’m going to keep it honest with you, I couldn’t believe they were putting me at running back on a third-and-one ...,” Jack added. “This is a big game, they’ve got me running the ball. I haven’t run the ball since high school. Prime time, ‘Myles go ahead and get the first down.’"

Jack ran six times for 120 yards against the Wildcats in a 31-26 victory. La Sonjia was at a family gathering watching on TV in Phoenix.

”I don’t care what time it is,” she texted him that night, “you make sure you call me.”

“Mom,” Jack said later, “I had no idea.”

He blocked a punt against Oregon, played on at least three sets of special teams. A nice story, perhaps an entire career, was born.

There are obvious comparisons to Charles Woodson and Gordie Lockbaum. This being L.A. Jack also is a heartbeat away from blowing up on multiple platforms. All this because of a defender who has chipped in with 274 yards in 15 career games.

“[Life’s] definitely changed,” he said. “People who didn’t talk to me in high school, talk to me now. I’ve got relatives hitting me up on Facebook who I’ve never seen. It’s like the typical stuff that you get. My followers went up like 1,500 on Twitter.

“Everybody is surprised. I’m surprised. I’m on the field, like, nervous.”

Some kids are just wise beyond their years. Jack is engaging, able to speak on the issues of the day. He recently sat down at UCLA’s athletic complex to discuss the issues of the day.

On new two-a-week full-pad practice limits.

“At this point we’re old enough to know how to tackle. We don’t need to beat up on each other. We could go five days a week and hit but I think it’s unnecessary. It’s not making us any better.

“Toward late in the season it’s a grind with the Stanfords and Oregons. It does no good ... At Bellevue we had four-hour, three-hour practices. That was kind of our mentality. Sometimes you hated it.”

On what it means to be tough within those limits.

“It’s really a mindset. Even though we hit [in practice], I feel like the games we play are brutal. This game you’re never, ever 100 percent. Something is bothering you whether it’s a toe or a knee. If you can get through than grind and not let if affect you mentally I feel like that’s tough.”

On Shabazz Napier’s “Hungry Huskies” comment regarding the modern college athlete

“I was saying, ‘Thank you, somebody finally said something on national television.’ Even though he apologized for what he said and how he said it, it’s the dead truth.”

Within his college career, players now have access to a full training table. Beginning with his junior year in 2015, they most likely will get a cost-of-attendance stipend.

“We don’t have time to go out and get a job. It’s kind of like we’re not seeing any money. They’re selling Brett Hundley’s jersey in the bookstore. I just feel like if they’re not going to pay us they could take care of us better ...

“After the [2013] Arizona game, we got back everything on campus was closed. Everything in Westwood is closed. You can’t eat. You go to bed hungry.”

Finally, what’s the difference between delivering blows on offense and defense?

“It’s really the same. When I have the ball in my hand I don’t want to seem nervous, but I’m antsy. I want to get out of there.

“Defensive guys like me are trying to hurt you.”

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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