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The Closer
Texas running back Samaje Perine set to bring his hard-nosed talents to Oklahoma

Samaje Perine is a closer. While that term is normally used in baseball or sales departments, the hard-nosed running back has inherited similar responsibilities on the football field.
Perine is the player who Hendrickson High School in Pflugerville, Texas, calls on whenever it’s time to put a game away or finish off a defense.

“I think my favorite part about Samaje is that when we really got to have him, not to necessarily win a game, but to finish a game, and we have to have two or three first downs or we have to have a drive — he’s going to be that kind of guy who says, ‘Give me the rock. I will get it done,’” said Chip Killian, head coach at Hendrickson. “We have gotten into some (situations) where we had to run the clock down and we gave it to him nine straight times. And he has gotten two or three first downs and everybody in the stadium knows he’s getting the ball.

“He knows how to make it happen and really runs with his heart.”

Forget about crunch time — the 6-foot, 213-pound Perine is a load to handle at any point of the game. But late in the fourth quarter, when a defense is already frazzled from a steady dose of his fierce running style, he becomes a freight train looking for its next speed bump.

Knowing his coaches and teammates count on him in those types of situations truly means something to Perine.

“It makes me feel great because I am all for my team and I will do whatever it takes for my team,” said Perine. “When a coach says that about you, it’s very humbling. You know that you work hard, that you’re a great team person and you’re accountable. They can count on you to do anything you have to do for the team.”

Perine gave his coaches reason to praise him after a tremendous junior season, in which he ran for 1,993 yards and 14 touchdowns. has Perine ranked as the 14th-best running back in the nation and the 18th-best overall player in Texas.

It comes as no surprise that Perine is the type of back who likes to inflict pain on defenders, especially at the end of games. He patterns much of his running style after former Sooner and reigning NFL MVP Adrian Peterson.

“The way he runs, he’s a very aggressive runner,” Perine said of Peterson. “He doesn’t look to avoid contact. If you come to hit him, he’s going to hit you just as hard, if not harder. I try to mimic that as much as I can with what I have. I try to not avoid contact. If I need to hit someone, I am going to hit them with all my force.”

Perine has always looked up to Peterson. Both are from small towns in Texas and play the same position, which further adds to his admiration where Peterson is concerned.

But Perine’s admiration went to another level when he found himself staring at a long and painful rehabilitation after tearing the ACL/MCL in his knee in the final game of his sophomore year. The injury and rehab process happened to coincide with Peterson’s, who also injured his knee at the end of the 2011 NFL season.

“I looked up to him even before the whole injury thing,” said Perine. “I watched his highlight tapes all the time, every Thursday before games to see what he did. Watched his workouts to see how he got himself better. When I saw his injury and how similar it was to my injury, I looked up to him even more and saw how hard he worked. How he said he was going to come back, and I just fed off that and said I was going to do the same.

“It seems to have worked out pretty well. Coming off the knee injury, I wasn’t expecting to do as good as I did. But I figured if you put hard work in, you get hard work out. I put a lot of hard work in.”

With both players going through similar adversity at the same time, Perine had all the motivation he would need to get back on the field in 2012.

“It was always something to fall back on when I had nothing to look forward to,” said Perine. “I could go on YouTube and see what Adrian Peterson is doing and that kind of motivated me to put in a little extra work when I didn’t want to. I had a great support system with my family and my coaches and the trainers and extended family. They were all keeping my hopes up and helping me along the way. I never had a down moment from day one. I told myself I was going to be back for my junior season and I came back stronger than ever. I didn’t miss any games.”

According to Killian, motivation has never been a problem for Perine.
“I don’t know if there are enough superlatives to describe him as a player,” said Killian. “He is a total team player. Very smart. Basically knows all the plays. Kind of a coach on the field type of guy. He is going to give 100 percent in practice, as well as games. And that’s hard to find these days.”

It still took a while for colleges to take notice of Perine. He said he started getting looks as a sophomore, but that dried up after his knee injury.

Perine went into his junior season without any major schools showing him any attention. But that changed midway through the season once college coaches and scouts got a chance to see there were no lingering effects from his knee surgery.

“Perine is a productive load-back with very good strength, power and inside vision,” said one recruiting analyst. “An ideal prospect for a downhill offense at the next level. Does leave some second level yards on the field due to a lack of great open field elusiveness. Possesses smooth hands as a pass catcher along with the physicality and leverage to develop as a blocker. A potential early carry guy at the next level.”

According to Perine, the first school to contact him was TCU, followed by Oklahoma a couple of weeks later. His list of offers included Baylor, Florida State, SMU, Tennessee and others.

But it was the Sooners who made the biggest impression.

“Once Oklahoma rolled in with Coach (Cale) Gundy and Coach (Bobby Jack) Wright, I really liked them,” said Perine. “I just got attached quick to them. They were real nice and straightforward. They knew what they wanted and I liked that about them.”

It didn’t take long for Perine to realize he wanted to be a Sooner. He committed to OU back in May. But his decision was made tougher when defending national champion Alabama joined the recruiting fray.

“Alabama came late,” said Perine. “They were one of the last ones to contact me. Them and Texas were the last two. That was at Christmas my junior year so they were way behind the game. By then, I had almost made up my mind, but not quite. I wanted to go check out Alabama before I made my mind up. They have a great coaching staff. Don’t get me wrong. I just felt like Oklahoma was a better place for me.”

Perine also said he felt he had a better chance to see playing time early at OU. He said the Tide was already loaded for the next few seasons at running back, while Oklahoma figures to lose several backs to graduation after this season.

“I noticed Alabama had signed three or four running backs in the 2013 class,” said Perine. “They really wouldn’t have any need for me so I wouldn’t see myself playing until my junior or senior year. That’s just how it is with the numbers. You look at a place like Oklahoma, they are graduating three or four running backs this year, so they are only going to be left with four. So my opportunity was best at Oklahoma.”

That is good news for Oklahoma fans who see winning Perine’s services over Alabama as a positive step toward a successful future.

(Editor's note: This story appears in the OU-Texas Preview Issue of Sooner Spectator. To subscribe, call 1-877-841-8877)