Prior to UF’s 24-13 victory over Auburn, Florida running back Lamical Perine had just about seen it all this season — except an open field, that is.
But that changed when Perine’s 88-yard dash — the longest run by a UF running back in 31 years — put an exclamation point on Florida’s statement victory in front of 90,854 fans Saturday night.
For a player many expected to have a break-out season, Saturday’s performance was a breath of fresh air.
Yet for the Theodore, Alabama, native, it meant just a little bit more.
Ranked the No. 28 running back in the 2016 recruiting class, Perine initially was interested in joining a local program, and he was soon evaluated by the likes of Alabama and Auburn.
The Crimson Tide’s push was too late — by then Perine was locked in with UF — and the Tigers weren’t too fond of Perine’s speed, to put it lightly.
“I just felt like they weren’t very interested in me at the time. They probably thought I was a little too slow. As everybody already knows, that was one reason,” Perine said. “But I showed them today.”
Any notion Perine’s skill-set wouldn’t cut it in the SEC has more than be erased in the years since Auburn’s evaluation, yet he hasn’t forgotten how his recruitment transpired.
That chip on Perine’s shoulder was evident in practice in the build-up to Saturday.
When Monday arrived, Perine said his mindset was “totally different”. If he was going to break out this season, an emotionally charged match-up with the Tigers seemed like the perfect time.
“I knew I had to make some big-time plays for my team,” he said. “A lot of people doubted me, but I just continued to keep working and go out there and just try to help my teammates to this victory.”
With the end zone in his sights, and no Tigers close enough to trip him up, the gravity of the moment hit all at once for Perine.
“It almost brought tears to my eyes. Just a big-time atmosphere and big-time crowd. I’m glad I was able to make that big-time play,” Perine said. “I wanted them to know, I wanted them to understand that it meant a lot to me to get out there and could do it, to even make that big-time play.”
Perine didn’t suffer alone, as those in UF’s locker room were more than aware of his feelings throughout the start of the season. When a skill position player sees their impact drop off, confidence can wane, with its return often correlated with production.
As he glided in for six, that gravity of the moment, its potential impact on Florida’s offense in the latter half of the season, clicked with his teammates: Perine was back, if not better than ever.
“He showed them,” safety Shawn Davis said of Perine’s play against Auburn.
That was a sentiment Freddie Swain, who led all receivers Saturday with 146 receiving yards on six receptions, shared.
“It’s great. It’s a good play from a big guy and it kind of sealed the win, so it was great,” Swain said of Perine, who finished the game with 130 yards on 14 rushing attempts. “He did (make Auburn regret passing on him).”
However, considering the Gators consistently preach the importance of the next game, Perine’s next test is maintaining his production. With Auburn vanquished, Perine turns to conquering the next Tigers on the horizon, where an 8 p.m. match-up with LSU in Death Valley awaits.
For Florida to stay unbeaten, the 24-13 victory seemed to indicate the Gators need Perine’s production — which might require a mindset similar to Saturday’s, one built on being written off prematurely.
“Just control what I can control. I know I’m a big-time player and a lot of people, they doubt me sometimes, but I come in every day and give my all for my teammates. It was just an honor to be able to make a big play for this team, how much I go out and just go hard,” Perine said. “I’m a humble guy, but everybody knows when it’s time to play big games, I’m a guy they can look to.”