Among the top Florida juniors electing to return for their senior season, running back La’ Mical Perine appears to be the one who came closest to declaring for the NFL draft.
“It was one of the hardest decisions of my life,” he said.
It was hard because, well, that usual reason for kids who grow up playing football.
“It was a difficult decision because of this dream I’ve been dreaming about my whole life (to play in the NFL),” Perine said. “When it came down to it, I honestly had to make a grown-up decision.”
After going over feedback from the NFL and having some long discussions with his parents, he decided to put his pro football dream on hold for a year and return for his senior season.
He says he has no doubt he made the right call.
“I’m happy to be here,” Perine said. “I’m happy to be here every day. I love being a Gator — 100 percent. I wouldn’t change that for anything.”
The Gators are happy he’s a Gator, too. Coming off a breakout junior season in which he led the Gators in rushing (826 yards , 6.1 yards a carry), Perine figures to be a key component in Dan Mullen’s offense in 2019, especially with Jordan Scarlett’s decision to forego his senior season to enter the draft.
“He’s very important,” said wide receiver Van Jefferson, another top junior who is returning for his senior season. “He’s a great back. He’s made some runs where I’m like, ‘Wow, that dude is really strong.’ He runs between the tackles very hard. He’s a hard worker.
“He has goals that he wants to accomplish. I feel like he’s going to reach those goals. He has team goals as well. He’s going to put the time and effort in to make sure this program gets to where it needs to be.
“He’s an important piece coming back.”
Perine said one of the main reasons he came back is the opportunity to possibly play for a championship this season. The Gators came fairly close in Mullen’s first season, going 10-3 and finishing in a New Year’s Six bowl and in the final top 10 nationally.
Perine said he also wants to continue his development as a complete back, something he began working on in earnest last season, and he’s looking forward to seeing how potent Mullen’s offense is going to be in Year Two.
“I just felt like I had a lot of unfinished business,” he said. “When it was time to make the decision to go, I wasn’t 100 percent ready yet. I had talked with my family about it and they felt like it wouldn’t hurt me to come back.”
The feedback he received from the NFL seems a little bit vague. Perine said he was projected to go anywhere from the second day (rounds two and three) to the third day (rounds 4-7).
He has a much better idea where he fits in at Florida. For one, he’ll be the No. 1 running back and he’ll have a chance to continue working on the other important aspects of his position — pass protection and catching the ball out of the backfield.
“I’ve still got a lot of room for improvement,” he said. “I made a big change in my life from my sophomore year to my junior year, learning how to fight through adversity and learn from everybody. Take everything in, learn from every coach.
“At the next level, you have to know how to catch, block, pass protect. All that. You’ve got to be a versatile player. There are a lot of people who know how to run the ball, but not many who catch the ball at running back.
“That’s the trait I’m going to carry on to the next level. I’m going to continue it this upcoming season.”
Speaking of 2019, Perine said Mullen’s offense is another reason he came back.
“I feel like I can’t do anything but progress in the offense we’re in,” he said. “I know Coach Mullen is going to dial it up every time we take the field.”