He just wanted to make a play.
Coaches and teammates had raved about him in the lead-up to the season, and this — the first carry of true freshman running back Lamical Perine’s college career — was his chance to show everyone why.
And then it wasn’t.
Massachusetts defensive lineman Ali Ali-Musa busted through Florida’s line, met Perine in the backfield and punched the ball out of his arm.
Even though Florida recovered the fumble, Perine jogged off and never returned in Florida’s season opener.
“Of course he was upset,” quarterback Luke Del Rio said. “I’d be mad if he wasn’t upset. But he didn’t get in the gutter. He didn’t pack it in.”
The freshman proved as much in Saturday’s game against Kentucky when he got his second chance, this time taking 17 carries and never fumbling.
Instead, he redeemed himself to the tune of a team-best 105 yards rushing and caught a touchdown pass in Florida’s 45-7 win.
“He played incredible on Saturday,” Del Rio said. “I’m really proud with him, the way he played.”
But Perine wasn’t the only freshman to call attention to himself in the win. Two games into the season, it’s been him and offensive lineman Jawaan Taylor drawing praises.
And for Perine, the praises don’t stop at Del Rio.
“He’s a beast,” running back Mark Thompson said on Saturday. “He’s another elite player. He knows exactly what he’s doing when he gets the ball in his hands. For a young guy, that’s amazing to see.”
Thompson added that Perine plays with confidence, something the redshirt junior said he lacked as a freshman.
“I had jitters, butterflies all the time,” Thompson said. “He looks relaxed out there.”
Perine’s success may come as a surprise to some, as he came into the season last on Florida’s running back depth chart. He’s also very young, though his 5-foot-11, 221-pound frame doesn’t suggest it.
Coach Jim McElwain never doubted him, though. He’s been hyping up Perine since he arrived on campus in the summer.
“I was excited about all of them,” McElwain said of pre-season player evaluations, “but I really felt like he was a guy in the evaluation phase — I just think he is a good SEC back.”
Taylor is another player McElwain was high on in the pre-season, and the 6-foot-5, 340-pound offensive lineman didn’t disappoint in his first game action.
Coming on for injured right tackle Fred Johnson, Taylor — and the rest of Florida’s offensive line — didn’t allow a sack on Del Rio during the game.
“Oh man, the Great Wall of ‘Waany,” Del Rio said. “That’s what I call him. He’s a stone wall. He is the strongest punch I’ve ever seen a freshman have.”
Despite his early success, Taylor could have never played this season. He arrived at UF substantially overweight.
The football staff challenged Taylor to drop some pounds to increase his maneuverability, so he did. And so far, it’s paying off on the field.
“He came back at the end of camp down to about 340 and playing like a ball of rolling butcher knives,” McElwain said.
His success coupled with Perine’s were major factors in Florida’s win against Kentucky. And while it’s unknown how influential they’ll be in future games, Del Rio said he’s happy to have significant contributions coming from the duo.
“It’s kind of hard to tell how freshmen are going to react when they play in the game,” Del Rio said.
“For those guys to go in calm-minded and do their job is big.”