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Myles Jack heeds Mora's warning, but still set to pursue dream

When Myles Jack walked out of UCLA football coach Jim Mora's office Sunday afternoon, the Bruins' injured two-way star felt secure that he was ending his collegiate career on a mutually satisfying note. Having told Mora of his plans to withdraw from school and begin preparing for the 2016 NFL Draft, the junior linebacker/running back said he listened to his coach's concerns -- and essentially received Mora's blessing.

"It was kind of a brief conversation, straight and to the point, and we just came to the agreement that it was the best decision," Jack told NFL Media in a telephone interview Tuesday evening. "It went pretty smoothly. He wanted to make sure I was 100-percent sure, and that it was really what I wanted to do, and not just what others wanted.

"In the end, he said that if that's what I want to do, he would back me up 1,000 percent, and that whatever I needed to do to try to get to the next level, he would help me any way he could."

Suffice it to say that Jack, who indeed withdrew from school on Monday and later this fall plans to rehab his torn meniscus in the Phoenix area, was a bit surprised on Tuesday when Mora made some public comments questioning the decision. While Mora didn't necessarily add insult to injury, the former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks head coach suggested that Jack -- considered a sure-fire first-round prospect before his injury -- might have been better served by returning for his senior season.

"He's taking his chips and shoving them into the middle, and we hope he draws a good hand," Mora told reporters Tuesday. "I think it's risky to do this. Having been on that side, there's going to be a lot of speculation as to what he is and where he fits. And as I told Myles on Sunday, NFL teams are very, very conservative, and if there's any question whatsoever, they'll pass on you in a heartbeat. They're going to take the sure thing ... As a guy that spent half of my life in the NFL, I would move with great caution, and I would tell that to all of our players.

"If he played all year, I was thinking that we would (not have him next year), but when you only play in three games and that's all the tape they have of you your junior year. ... I've been in 25 draft rooms, and I've never seen a guy taken off of that ever. I worry about that for him."

On Tuesday, Jack conceded that he was caught off guard by Mora's comments and said he is not second-guessing his decision in any way.

"It definitely surprised me, but I don't know -- maybe that's what he felt," Jack said. "I mean, it's a little crazy down there right now. They just suffered their first defeat (to Arizona State), and these are crazy times around here. But I'm still riding with the Bruins.

"Coming from him, I can't discredit what he's done in the NFL, so I have to value his opinion. I have no choice but to respect his opinion and take what he says into consideration. The only scout I know is my head coach, so what he says, I have to take it seriously. But I'm definitely glad I made the decision."

The 6-1, 245-pound Jack burst into the national consciousness as a true freshman in 2013, when the Bruins began using the standout linebacker as a situational running back. He ran for 267 yards and seven touchdowns on 38 carries and evolved into a Jack of all trades: during his collegiate career he played inside and outside linebacker, cornerback, safety and running back.

Last month, Jack's late interception sealed UCLA's come-from-behind victory over No. 19 BYU. Two days later, he suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice.

Over the weekend, he decided to set his sights on the NFL for 2016.

"The way the injury happened, it kinda rolled into school -- school was starting and I couldn't really be very mobile, and I didn't have any transportation considerations. It kinda made it very hard for me to get to class, so that was an issue.

"Taking my football career into consideration, I want to be with the best. I want to do everything I can to heal from this injury and come back better than ever. I had to decide whether to stay in school or pursue my dream, and I chose to pursue the dream I've had since I was a kid."

While surprised by Mora's comments, Jack has been heartened by the reaction of his former Bruins teammates, who he said have been fully supportive of his decision.

"I had talked to coach Mora [on] Sunday, and I took the time to give a heads up to some of my teammates Monday night," Jack said. "They all supported my decision and could understand why I felt it was the best thing. I've gotten plenty of texts from my teammates since then, and they've all been supportive of me chasing my dream.

"That's the hardest thing about leaving. Besides my family, they are the closest people to me. They basically are my family, too. Thankfully, it's all been supportive."

Jack, whose goal is to run and go through drills at next February's combine, will rehab in Los Angeles for the next several weeks before relocating to Arizona, where Brett Fischer -- the Arizona Cardinals' staff physical therapist -- will oversee his recovery. Among the high-profile clients who've come back strong after rehabbing from knee injuries at the Fischer Institute are New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis and Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer.

On Sunday in Glendale, Ariz., St. Louis Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley -- in his second career game -- ran for 146 yards in a 24-22 victory over the Cardinals. Gurley, who suffered a torn ACL in November of his junior season at Georgia, was drafted 10th overall despite uncertainty over his recovery.

"When I saw him do that against the Cardinals, I was like, 'All right, cool, I can deal with this,'" Jack said. "He was doing his thing, and he came back just fine -- and that's what I strive to be next season. It definitely gives me hope.

"I feel like I've done enough (to impress NFL teams). I played my freshman and sophomore years, and three games of my junior year, so there's a reasonable amount of tape. Obviously, everybody wanted to see big things from me my junior year. But I think I've shown what I can do."

And while he's certainly cognizant that he could get hurt again, Jack prefers to take that risk while under contract to an NFL team.

"It's definitely a big risk," he said. "Anything can happen. My injury happened in practice, so that shows that anything can happen at any time. So yeah, I'd rather not take that risk (without turning pro), and moving forward I wanted to get the best (rehab situation) I possibly could."

It's hard to fault Jack for wanting to be compensated for his efforts, especially in light of the injury. "I remember when I was a freshman I saw them selling my jersey (at the student store)," he said. "I looked at the price tag: $65.99. I said, 'Ah, man, that's messed up.'"

Once he puts on an NFL jersey, Jack said he'd be open to playing more than one position as a pro: "It depends on what they want to do, but I'm definitely up to the challenge."

And though some may suspect that there are Hit the Road, Jack overtones in Mora's public comments, Jack believes he'll remain a member of the UCLA family, saying he plans to attend the 20th-ranked Bruins' Oct. 22 game against No. 23 Cal at the Rose Bowl.

"In our meeting on Sunday, I reiterated to coach Mora that I was still supporting the team," Jack said. "I would like to go to the games. We're working on that right now."

Asked whether he believes Mora, who might well be in the mix for NFL head coaching vacancies come January based on his successful four-year run at UCLA, is ready to return to the pros, Jack laughed and said, "Definitely. He's a great coach. I guess he could do it again."

Jack also said he plans to return to UCLA and get his degree at a later date. "When I filed the papers, the lady kept reiterating that I can always come back," he said. "She said, 'Withdrawal is a see-you-later,' and that's how I look at it. I plan to go back to school at some point. But right now I want to chase my dream."

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @mikesilver.

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