HOOVER, Ala. — During the recruiting process, Lamical Perine, a standout running back from Mobile, Ala., did not receive a whole lot of love from his home-state schools.
In fact, he received none from Auburn. The Tigers never offered a scholarship.
“They said I was too slow,” Perine said.
Alabama gave him a little love, but it came really late in the form of a phone call from a certain Tide coach.
“It was kind of crazy when they came in at the last minute,” Perine said at SEC Media Days on Monday. “Honestly, Nick Saban is the one who called me and gave me my (Alabama) offer. It was kind of surreal. But I had to come back to reality and realize I’m a Gator.”
The word in this state is that no one says no to Nick Saban.
“Lamical Perine did,” he said.
The late Tide offer was appreciated and a little bit tempting, but even if it had come much earlier in the process it likely would not have swayed Perine to change his mind about Florida.
Not only had he been committed to the Gators for almost a year, he’d considered himself a Gator since he was 11 years old, and that wasn’t going to change with one phone call.
“Just the tradition and the winning ways,” Perine said, when asked why he’d grown up a Gator. “Seeing Tim Tebow, guys like that, Percy Harvin — just guys that carried that Gator standard the right way.”
So, when the legendary Saban called with the offer, Perine did not even consider flipping to the Tide.
“No, never,” he said. “I’m an honest guy. I’m a loyalty guy. Florida was honest with me, so I was going to do the same thing.”
The commitment between player and school has turned out to be a good thing for both Perine and Florida.
Perine has steadily produced for the Gators since stepping on campus as a true freshman in 2016 and playing in all 13 games that first season. Over the past three seasons, he has combined to rush for 1,809 yards and 16 touchdowns and catch 32 passes for 412 yards and three touchdowns.
After leading UF in rushing in 2018 with 826 yards and seven TDs, Perine enters this season as one of the best running backs in the SEC.
He’s a high-impact player in UF’s offense, quarterback Feleipe Franks said.
“He’s super valuable,” Franks said. “Super good player, humble. Has been all about the program. He’s just a guy you just like to have in your locker room. Funny guy, never having a bad day, smile on his face, just always a good vibe to be around and he’s a really good player on top of that.”
Perine explored possibly leaving after his junior year to enter the NFL draft. But he wanted to come back and get his degree and continue to work on his overall skill set.
His goal when he arrived at UF was to develop into a complete back. All indications are he has reached that status.
“One of the great things and smart things for him was making a decision to come back to school,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “If you look at his aspirations of playing at the next level and going into the pros. There’s not tons of guys that get 30 something carries a game in the NFL.
“You see backs that get used all over, motioning out of the backfield, in the pass game, all over the place and the value that these players have.
“So, you see someone that has really worked on making himself a complete player, not just a great back running the ball, but understanding … protection, make sure he understands route running and the bigger picture of the game.”
Perine showed how complete a back he is in the 41-15 beatdown of Michigan in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. In the third quarter, he caught a 5-yard touchdown pass, then broke off a 53-yard run for a TD in the fourth quarter. He finished with a team-leading 76 yards rushing and a touchdown and five receptions.
In his previous game, against FSU, he rushed for 129 yards, 74 coming on a touchdown run. Two weeks before that, in the comeback win against South Carolina, he rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns.
Perine enters the 2019 season on a roll — and with big expectations for the Gators.
“The expectations are always high. That’s what type of coach Coach Mullen is,” Perine said. “We’ve got to go out and prove all of our hard work is paying off.
“The three games we lost last year we could have won. We’re learning from the little mistakes we made last year and we’re going to change it up this year.”
Perine is looking forward to every game this season, but one in particular stands out.
Auburn comes to The Swamp on Oct. 5.
“That’s going to be a nice game,” he said. “I plan to have a great game.”
Who: Florida vs. Miami
When: 7 p.m. Aug. 24
Where: Camping World Stadium, Orlando
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850