The stories circulating about Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine resemble Paul Bunyan-esque tall tales.
One look at the 5-foot-11, 243-pound bruiser, and it’s easier than not to believe the stories.
The 19-year-old true freshman said he was mistaken for a parent more than once during his official visit to Oklahoma. There is a story about him stopping an elevator right as it closed that left teammates in awe.
Then, there is the weight room legend. Perine said he has lifted 20 reps with 275 pounds on the bench press. His website says he has bench pressed 435 pounds, inclined 375, and cleaned 320.
His fellow Oklahoma running back, Alex Ross, said there is seemingly no limit to how much weight Perine can lift.
“Summer workouts, basically, anything you put on the bar, he could do,” Ross said. “With ease. I knew then he’d be ready. One afternoon, he was doing incline bench, and Coach was scratching his head putting weight on there. He can do any of the weight. It doesn’t even matter. It’s crazy.”
Perine has taken his physical gifts and translated them into on-the-field performance. He is Oklahoma’s No. 2 rusher heading into the fourth-ranked Sooners’ Big 12 opener at West Virginia on Saturday. With starting running back Keith Ford out for at least a week because of a hairline fracture in his right fibula, Perine’s opportunity to carry a significant load has come early.
He got his first start last week against Tennessee, and he should get more carries this week.
“It’s a great feeling for me that the coaches have such respect for me and are able to depend on me this much early in my career,” Perine said.
The coaches felt Perine had the tools to be an immediate contributor. They were more certain once they saw his work ethic.
“You never know what you’ve got until they step on the football field on game day,” co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “During training camp, he was a very mature player, and we felt like he was going to handle everything really well.”
Perine was Oklahoma’s No. 3 back entering the opener against Louisiana Tech, but he led the Sooners with 77 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. He ran for 34 yards against Tulsa, then led the Sooners again with 67 yards on just nine carries against Tennessee.
He had 55 yards on just six carries in the second half against Tennessee and showed some speed on a 31-yard burst.
“Samaje gets in there in the second half, and he’s fresh,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “There he is, man, and he’s pounding it. He’s a strong, physical player and has a great base to him. He does everything you want. He was a big boost there in the second half.”
A typical Perine run includes him hitting the line with deceptive speed, bodies bouncing off of him, and a pile moving forward. So far, he has lost yardage on just two of his 32 carries.
Humble, yet confident, Perine adds to the budding legend with straightforward answers that are as hard-hitting as his running style.
“I look for contact for the most part,” he said. “I’m not the one that will try to juke you. I will if I have to, but I don’t look to do that much.”
How he delivers the words reveals another side. His intelligence, as well as his size, give the aura of a much older man.
“Basically, when you come in as a freshman, it’s physical and mental,” Ross said. “With him, physically, he was all there. Mentally, he was all there. So it correlates big in a game.”