Jack of all trades: UCLA athlete plays both ways

Jori Epstein

For Texas, experience on the field is becoming a rarity. As suspensions continue to mount, the Longhorns have been forced to field a team that hardly resembles its projected preseason starting lineup. Last week, for example, Texas’ offensive line entered the contest with a combined five total starts

Myles Jack, UCLA’s sophomore linebacker and running back, bests that number on his own, on both sides of the ball. As a freshman in 2013, Jack played in 13 games and started in 12 as linebacker. Not only does he boast more starting experience than Texas’ entire offensive line, his experience ranges more broadly than any player on Texas’ entire team.

“He’s a great defensive player for us,” said Brett Hundley, UCLA’s redshirt junior quarterback, Monday. “But when he’s in the backfield, just to be able to give him the ball and let him do what he does, and that’s get touchdowns — it’s nice as a quarterback not to have any reason not to just hand him the ball.”

While Texas head coach Charlie Strong harps on the need to improve all three phases of the Longhorns’ game, Jack will show Texas what it’s like to have personally mastered the trio. Jack’s accomplishments were recognized last year when he earned both the Pac-12 defensive and offensive freshman of the year awards.

“[Offense and defense are] really the same,” Jack said. “When I have the ball in my hand, I don’t want to seem nervous, but I’m antsy — I want to get out there. Defensive guys like me are trying to hurt you.”

Though Jack’s reputation may brand him as an intimidating foe, Jack doesn’t, however, want to hurt everyone. Instead, he seeks to help his teammates as best as he can — a selflessness and sense of accountability his teammates admire.

“He’s a freaking agent. We just tell him to go left or right, and he’ll follow,” Hundley said. “It changes the pace to have Myles [Jack] in there with his power, running and speed. He’s a good back force for us, and when he gets in the game, he does special things.”

Yet Jack isn’t focused on accomplishing “special things” on his own.

“I’m up for whatever the team needs,” Jack said. “It’s not for me or personal accolades. I’m not asking for extra plays, but when they need me, I’m ready.”

Jack, who turned 19 this month, has been ready for years now. His mother, La Sonjia, told CBS Sports that Jack would wake up at 6 a.m. on Saturday mornings to run drills and invite neighborhood guys over for practice. He analyzed film as early as age seven. His longtime commitment prepared him well to understand the game and used his analytical skills to look back on UCLA’s most recent game against Memphis. After securing three defensive touchdowns against Virginia in week one, the Bruins’ defense was under fire last week for allowing Memphis to score 35 points. The Bruins still pulled out a win, but Jack, naturally hard on himself, felt his defense had failed.

“We hurt ourselves,” Jack said. “Coach put us in the best position possible to succeed, but we were making errors — little thing that will be corrected.”

Jack remains realistic, knowing that the three scores his defense had against Virginia aren’t going to happen each week. Defensive touchdowns aren’t his main goal, however. Instead, Jack prides himself on the defense’s ability to respond to adversity.

“Teams are going to score, [and] teams are going to make plays, but we need to answer as a defense,” Jack said. “That’s one of the traits our defense has: we can answer.”