If you went to high school with Mississippi State running back LaDarius Perkins and haven't seen him since, you might not recognize him.
The speedy, shifty 5-foot-10 running back says he is a little bit above 190-pounds now, quite the difference from two years ago. Perkins credits the change to MSU strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis.
"I feel like I've changed a lot. Coming out of high school, I was smaller than this," Perkins said. "I was probably 170. I was ripped up, but I got here and it was a whole different ball game. I got bigger, more toned up and things like that. I got faster, more explosive, stronger. Balis plays a big part in that."
Said Perkins, "I love lifting weights."
That much is clear.
As a redshirt freshman last year, Perkins appeared in all 13 of MSU's games, rushing 101 times for 566 yards and bringing in nine receptions for 247 yards. He scored six touchdowns, splitting them evenly, three and three, between air and ground.
With his shorter stature and quick burst, Perkins is considered more of an open space threat, but the noticeably thicker running back said he can run between the tackles, too, which Dan Mullen gave him a few opportunities to do in 2010.
"I'm more of a speed guy, but I can take a pounding, too, and take a couple licks and bounce off," Perkins said. "I tell the guys on defense it's hard to tackle me because I'm low to the ground and I'm quick, too. I can bounce off of them really quick."
Perkins broke out as a redshirt freshman due largely to his explosiveness, particularly late in the season.
Against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, Perkins racked up 319 all-purpose yards (yes, three-hundred and nineteen), the second largest single-game total in Mississippi State history. In addition to 98 yards rushing, Perkins tallied 140 yards receiving, adding to his team-leading season total of 1,110 all-purpose yards in 2010. He ended the season with 155 total yards against Michigan in the Gator Bowl, including 40 rushing and 79 receiving.
However, Perkins did have one downfall in both games, if you can call it that. He broke off long runs in each, but was caught from behind before he reached the end zone.
"I hear about this a lot. You gotta understand, man. Like the Ole Miss game, I was kind of winded and I got caught from behind. The Michigan game, I didn't know the guy was coming like that. I thought that I was by myself," Perkins said. "I worked on that this offseason and it has gotten better and you will not see that this season."
As for what he's done to fix his only "problem," Perkins said it goes back to Balis.
"We do a lot of speed things on certain days that you can come in on your own and get in," Perkins said. "I was working on my long speed and more of a lift, like as I get going, as far as like 40 to 50 yards, then getting a good lift and keeping my speed up like that. I was working on that to make sure I don't get caught from behind this season."
Perkins is the "two" in the 1-2 punch with him and senior running back Vick Ballard, who was MSU's primary and leading rusher in 2010.
That season started with a muddied backfield as the Bulldogs had to replace their all-time leading rusher in Anthony Dixon with little experience left behind him. Ballard had just transferred in from junior college, Perkins was a redshirt freshman, freshman Montrell Conner had just transferred and junior Robert Elliott was something of a question mark.
It didn't take long for Ballard to emerge as the go-to back and Perkins followed shortly after as the change of pace guy.
Now that they've had a full season in the program and close to an entire offseason knowing the dynamic, Perkins has high hopes for what the duo can accomplish in 2011.
"We can be really good," Perkins said. "If we just stay focused and stay humble, good things will come to us."
And as for his trademarked sprints up the sideline, Perkins said he spent much of the offseason working toward breaking off a few more in 2011.
"We catch the ball out of the backfield a lot, like this summer we did that a lot," he said. "Hopefully we'll be catching passes a lot, too."