LOS ANGELES -- Myles Jack was running late for an interview last week because he had to hurry from a theater class. It’s an elective, not a fallback career. Sorry, Hollywood.
“It’s fun. You have to be super peppy,” Jack said. “It’s kind of like ‘Glee.’ People tell me I can act. They say I’m a character.”
Theater is one of the few places people expect Jack to be someone else, and he can be without judgement or criticism. No one in theater class has called him overrated. But on the football field, a lot of people have an idea of who or what UCLA’s dynamic star should be.
Jack isn’t a running back, though he’s played one on TV. He’s not a safety either, but he’s played that too. Nor is he a cornerback. But, you guessed it, he's done that as well.
“Honestly, I didn’t want any of that,” Jack said. “I just wanted to be a linebacker and that was it. But the coaches believed in me so I started believing in myself. If they think I can do it, then I can do it.”
UCLA coach Jim Mora has the simplest explanation.
“He’s a pure football player,” Mora said.
That’s the only definition that seems appropriate to describe the do-all athleticism of Jack, now the headliner of the Bruins’ linebacking corps after learning from Lott IMPACT Trophy winner Anthony Barr in 2013 and Butkus Award (and Lott) winner Eric Kendricks in 2014.
But the difference between Jack and those two is he can do things they couldn’t. He can do a lot of things that a lot of other football players can’t. And for those who think Jack underperformed last season -- he’s OK with that. Just because he wasn’t what others wanted him to be -- Heisman finalist, Butkus finalist, 1,500-yard rusher, 100-plus tackles -- doesn’t mean he’s down on himself. Last year Jack did everything that was asked of him by his coaches. And he was very pleased with the results.
“Realistically, I thought I had a great season,” Jack said. “The positions I was put in and the things I was asked to do, I thought it went well.
“I don't want to say I'm content. But I'm happy. I don’t feel like I need to come out and redeem myself or bounce back.”
Jack’s breakout performance as a freshman -- when he captured the national zeitgeist for his dual-threat exploits -- created a series of expectations so ridiculously unattainable for his second year that all he could do was smile through the questions when people asked him if he was in a sophomore slump. By the way, 88 tackles, eight for a loss, an interception and three rushing touchdowns isn’t exactly a slump.
Truth is, Jack was a running back in 2013 because the Bruins needed him to be. Last year, with the emergence of Paul Perkins, that wasn’t needed. He was a safety against Stanford last year because the Bruins needed him to be. He was a cornerback against USC last year because the Bruins needed him to be. He lines up where the coaches tell him and he performs -- more often than not, extremely well.
“A lot of people after the game will look at stats and numbers,” Jack said. “But the game is deeper than that. If you really watch the game, I was covering receivers and quarterbacks weren’t throwing at me. That’s cool.
“There were points in the season when I wondered if I was having a slump. ‘Why aren’t I getting 15 tackles a game?’ I’d wonder. But that wasn’t my job. I was used like a DB a lot. In the USC game, I only had like two or three tackles. But I was manned up one-on-one on the island with [USC receiver] Nelson Agholor.”
Recalled Mora: “Going into that game, we knew we were going to put him on Nelson in man (coverage), but we were going to help him. After about the second series, Myles comes over to the sideline and says ‘Hey, help someone else. I got this guy.’”
For the record, Agholor is a potential first-round pick and finished with three catches for 24 yards.
Jack is on the move again this year. The Bruins are moving him from outside to inside linebacker in their base defense opposite rising sophomore Kenny Young. While Mora concedes the move takes away some of Jack’s coverage ability on the edge, it can open up a world of opportunities.
“You put him in the middle, and he’s going to make plays all over the field,” Mora said. “Of all the athletes I’ve ever been fortunate enough to be around -- just pure athleticism -- there’s Michael Vick and Julius Peppers. Two different body types, but amazing athleticism. Myles is at their level as an athlete.”
Jack, who said he’d be content if the coaching staff never asked him to carry the ball again, is all for the move.
“They are going to evolve the position,” Jack said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be right there in the box. But there will be times when I’ll switch roles with the other linebackers. Coverage is my strength. They are bringing me off the ball and saying ‘Myles, see ball, hit ball.’ And I can do that. That’s fine. That’s cool with me.”
So for the third straight season, Jack is going to be someone different. And chances are he’ll log a lot of production that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. And people will mumble and criticize and call him overrated because he doesn’t fit their idea of what he’s supposed to be.
But he knows what he’s accomplished so far in his career, and what’s ahead of him. And in the words of another theater enthusiast: “To thine own self be true.”