Lamical Perine stood at SEC Media Days back in his home state of Alabama in a blue suit and pink and blue plaid bowtie that his girlfriend helped him pick out. He chose the shoes — Jordan 11 retro Concords, preferring hype sneakers to dress shoes like his head coach. He was there to represent the University of Florida as a senior and a team leader but just two years ago Perine was looking for a way out. It’s was a long road to get to the Wynfrey Hotel.
Growing up in Theodore, Alabama — a town that is part of Mobile County there isn’t much to do. You can visit the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park. There are various trails and a nice breakfast spot called the Brick and Spoon. (Speaking from experience get the cinnamon beignets if you’re ever in town.)
There’s not a lot going on but there is a love for football. That’s where Lamical Perine grew up, it’s where he learned to play the game and where he fell in love with it. It’s also where he started to fall in love with the Florida Gators. Watching those Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes led teams was intoxicating to many, including a young Perine, who was deep in Auburn/Alabama country. By the time Perine’s junior season rolled around people started to know his name. He rushed for 1,416 yards on 216 carries and scored 15 touchdowns. He added two more receiving scores. That season put him on the radar of college coaches including then UF head coach Jim McElwain. The Gators liked Perine but wanted to see him in person. That’s why he decided to pay for ticket and take a Greyhound bus on his own to attend a camp in Gainesville. Earlier that month Auburn — who will travel to Gainesville on October 5 of this year — rejected Perine. They told him he was “too slow.”
“I remember those words,” Perine said at SEC Media Days. “I’ll never forget that.”
At that point Perine only had one scholarship offer from a SEC team. It was from Dan Mullen and Greg Knox at Mississippi State (funny how things come full circle). He still wanted another offer, especially one from the school that Tebow and Harvin, guys he watched growing up, went to. So Perine paid his own way to Florida, worked out for the coaching staff and earned his scholarship offer. He committed to Florida and stuck by that commitment. His senior season was spectacular. He rushed for 1,654 yards and 15 touchdowns earning him First Team All-State honors and some attention from another school in Alabama. Perine was long a Gator commit but as signing day approached Nick Saban came calling. When Nick Saban wants a kid from his state he generally gets him. The story, as told to Gator Country, was that Alabama called and wanted to come and do an in home visit with Perine and his family. The answer was no. Perine basically told the Alabama coaching staff that he couldn’t stop them from coming to his home, but don’t expect the door to open. Nobody in the state of Alabama tells Nick Saban that.
“Well, Lamical Perine did,” Perine said at Media Day
With that over Perine enrolled at Florida and played in all 13 games as a freshman. He was second on the team with 421 yards on 91 carries and he scored twice, once on the ground and once through the air. He posted 100-yard games against Missouri and Kentucky — one of only 14 true freshmen in the country to have multiple 100-yard games that season and the first Gator to do that as a freshman since Jeff Demps on 2010. As a sophomore Perine led the team with 136 carries, 562 yards and eight more touchdowns but there were things going on behind the scenes that troubled him.
His position coach Tim Skipper was moved from coaching running backs to linebacker. Then, his head coach, the one that gave him a chance at Florida essentially quit on the team midway through the season.
“Sophomore year I was thinking about it a lot. I felt like I wasn’t being used how I should be used and I didn’t want to waste any time,” Perine told Gator Country. “It was just a crazy experience watching coaches leave, watching coaches switch positions, I never thought that Skip (Tim Skipper) — he came to my school, he came to my house — and having things like that in your way it makes you think who you can trust.”
Perine was serious. He went home during a break from school and spoke with his mother, Sabrina Haywood, about what was happening. They knew that he only had two years of eligibility left but also still maintained his redshirt eligibility. If he wanted to make a move it would have to be before his junior season. They thought about it.
With adults all around him making business decisions seemingly without thought of the kid they made promises to two years ago could he go back to Florida? Would it be the best option for his future?
“I’m not going to lie to you. I thought about leaving a few times,” he said. “I was just thinking I was lost. I lost my head coach and my running back coach. I’ve had three running backs coaches since I’ve been here. That was kind of hard for me to take in at the time.”
The family prayed on it and ultimately decided to stick it out. Perine was in a timeshare with Jordan Scarlett as a junior but led the team with 134 carries and 826 rushing yards with seven touchdowns. He contemplated leaving school again after the 2018 season but decided to return for his senior year. He’s also primed for the most productive season of his career. Florida has other options in the backfield and Feleipe Franks will also run the ball his fair share but Perine is the go-to guy in the Gators’ backfield and he has his eyes set on 1,000 yards for his final season. He’s also going to graduate this December with a degree from a top-10 public university. Not too bad for a kid that was too slow for a team that was just an hour away.
“God led me in the right path,” Perine said. “He led me to not leaving and just being here and coming back for my senior year.”
“I’m glad I stuck it out, real talk. God had a plan for me.”