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Lache Seastrunk of UCLA bowl foe Baylor has regained stride

The speedy running back, who transferred from Oregon, cut a swath through the Big 12 Conference this season and will face the Bruins in the Holiday Bowl.

December 23, 2012|By Chris Foster
  • Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk (25) averaged 7.6 yards per carry this season.
Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk (25) averaged 7.6 yards per carry this… (Ronald Martinez / Getty…)

It started like any other highlight play by Lache Seastrunk, the Baylor running back with catch-me-if-you-can speed.

Seastrunk burst through a big hole, leaving Oklahoma State defenders breathing fumes. A 76-yard touchdown run seemed as inevitable as finding good Tex-Mex in Waco.

Then it got a little harder ... and more impressive.

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Seastrunk felt a muscle pull in his left leg at midfield. He hobbled to the end zone … and still outran five Oklahoma State players.

"I would hate to have been one of those Oklahoma State guys on the bus later," said Evelyn Seastrunk, Lache's mother. "Can you imagine what the coach said to them?"

"But, coach, it was Lache Seastrunk," could be an acceptable excuse soon enough.

Three years ago, Seastrunk was one of the most sought-after running backs in the nation as a senior at Temple (Texas) High School.

Oregon landed him, the start of a journey more painful than the touchdown run that clinched the 41-34 victory over Oklahoma State on Dec. 1.

There were questions about Seastrunk's connection with Will Lyles, who ran a Houston-based high school scouting service. The NCAA began investigating Oregon's $25,000 payment to Lyles. Seastrunk left after one redshirt year and returned to Texas, he said, to be closer to his ailing grandmother.

"I've come to terms with it," said Seastrunk, who transferred to Baylor in August 2011. "My character got dragged through the mud. I didn't do anything wrong."

Seastrunk, who has not been implicated in the NCAA investigation, would rather look ahead. He is enjoying a rebirth and his leg is healed, something UCLA will have to deal with in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl on Thursday.

Seastrunk, who had not played in a game since his senior year at Temple, had only 29 carries for 187 yards in limited work through Baylor's first seven games. He cut a wide swath through the Big 12 Conference after that, gaining 693 yards in the last five games.

That included 185 yards in a 52-24 victory over then-No. 1 Kansas State.

"He missed two years of football," Baylor Coach Art Briles said. "It took some time to get comfortable again."

Seastrunk got into his comfort zone with a 103-yard performance against Kansas in Baylor's eighth game. The Bears, 3-4 before that game, won four of their last five.

"I remember before Kansas, Coach said, 'Lache, this is what you have been waiting for,'" Seastrunk said. "I took it, ran with it and I don't plan on giving it back until I pass the torch."

Said Evelyn Seastrunk: "When he was 5, he told me, 'Mom, I want to be a professional athlete. I need big calves. How do you get them?' I showed him the drills. He went out and did them every day."

The question was whether he would get to play.

How much influence Lyles had over Seastrunk was the key part of the NCAA's investigation. Lyles reportedly was also close to former Oregon running backs LaMichael James and Dontae Williams.

Seastrunk and his mother said that is the past. But going the 34 miles from Temple to Waco via Eugene remains a bumpy road.

The NCAA's investigation about the Lyles payment bubbled to the surface last week. A Yahoo.com report said that Oregon officials anticipate going before the NCAA's committee on infractions this spring.

Oregon paid Lyles' Complete Scouting Services shortly after Seastrunk signed with Oregon. Lyles has said the money was not for influencing Seastrunk's decision.

Oregon Coach Chip Kelly said in 2011, "Will has a recruiting service that met NCAA rules and we used him in 2010."

With the investigation again in the headlines, Seastrunk again faces scrutiny.

"I was honest about the entire thing," Seastrunk said.

Leaving Oregon, Evelyn Seastrunk said, had nothing to do with the investigation.

Besides her sick mother, she said, "The whole deal was, we didn't think he got a chance to play."

Lache Seastrunk was going to get a chance at Baylor, but he had to sit out a second year when the NCAA denied his waiver request to play immediately.

It gave Seastrunk time to reflect.

"When I got to college, I had my head in the clouds," Seastrunk said. "I was arrogant. God brought me back down, humbled me. I understand more now."

Midway through the season, Seastrunk was off and running.

"You've got to earn your way into the lineup," Briles said. "He has certainly earned his way in there."

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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