Sooner, not later: OU quick to hand it to freshman Peterson Though not starting RB, former Palestine star is center of attention
12:54 PM CDT on Thursday, September 16, 2004
By BRIAN DAVIS / The Dallas Morning News
NORMAN, Okla. – As an 18-year-old recruit at Palestine, Adrian Peterson's physical attributes were stunning.
Oklahoma running backs coach Cale Gundy rattles off Peterson's numbers like an auctioneer – 6-2, 210 pounds, 4.4-second 40-yard dash, 11-foot broad jump, 39-inch vertical leap.
"Yeah, that jumps off the screen," Gundy said.
Peterson's freakish athletic ability makes him the talk of two states. Those who know the East Texas native best say the Oklahoma freshman will handle the intense scrutiny that comes with being the nation's No. 1 recruit.
OU fans are already buzzing about the 217 rushing yards Peterson piled up in the first two games, more than any other freshman in Division I-A. Some in Oklahoma compare the attention surrounding Peterson's arrival to that of Marcus Dupree in the 1980s.
Sooners fans are obsessed with one question: When will Peterson start?
Coach Bob Stoops has made it clear that junior Kejuan Jones, who has 1,716 yards and 30 touchdowns during his OU career, remains firmly entrenched as the starter. He's run for 184 yards in the first two games.
Peterson, now 19, should be comfortable as the center of attention.
"Every week there was something," said Peterson's high school coach, Jeff Harrell. "I thought he handled it real well."
Harrell said Peterson faced media attention daily in high school. ESPN and Fox Sports Southwest brought their TV cameras to Palestine, 108 miles southeast of Dallas and 150 miles north of Houston. Newspapers around the state profiled him. Opposing players and cheerleaders even asked for his autograph after games.
Despite constant demands on his time, Palestine offensive coordinator Tommy Allison said, Peterson always wore a smile. The attention did not affect his grades. Peterson's academic standing was never a question, Palestine principal Richard Scoggin said. He's known Peterson since seventh grade.
"He didn't make any more mistakes than anyone else in junior high," Scoggin said. "But once he got to high school, the coaches worked with him to help him become the best young man he could."
Tragedy in Peterson's personal life didn't alter his outlook.
A drunk driver killed his older brother, Brian, in 1992. Peterson's father, Nelson, was sentenced to 10 years in a Texarkana, Texas, prison in March 1999 after pleading guilty to laundering money acquired from the distribution of crack cocaine. Peterson still visits his father when he can, Harrell said.
Palestine and Oklahoma coaches credit Peterson's mother, Bonita, for being a strong influence in his life and keeping him grounded. OU offensive coordinator Chuck Long said that with so much attention, "you'd think, 'Well, here comes a prima donna.' "
Texas coach Mack Brown once showed up at Peterson's powerlifting meet. Southern Cal offensive coordinator Norm Chow attended one of Peterson's basketball games. Once, recruiters from UCLA, USC and Miami stood in the coaches' office and argued over who would talk to Peterson first.
"Any major Division I school you could think of," Allison said, "they were here."
Peterson told local media he had committed to OU, then announced his decision to the nation the next day on national television during halftime of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl high school all-star game. When he spoke, people listened. His comments about declining a scholarship offer from Texas drew statewide attention.
"Texas gets better players, but they don't get better as a team," Peterson told The News
in January. "Oklahoma takes the players they have and develops them. That's why players want to go there now."
Peterson's decision saddened longtime Palestine resident and devout Texas fan Bascom Bentley, whose son went to school with Peterson. Still, Bentley wishes Peterson well because, he said, Peterson put Palestine on the map.
"He broke my heart when he went to Oklahoma," said Bentley, who is also the 369th State District judge. "I've got that to look forward to the next four years.
"I bleed orange, and I go to bed every night having nightmares. I can hear 'Boomer Sooner' coming out both ears so much that they're bleeding."
Bentley said folks back home still talk about Peterson's high school days. He rushed for 2,960 yards and scored 32 touchdowns as a senior. Most of those yards came on a play called "32 Zone," but Allison later changed the name to "bread-and-butter right."
Approximately 11,000 fans showed up for OU's first public scrimmage in August just to see what the hubbub was all about. Peterson, however, suffered a dislocated shoulder injury on his sixth carry. The groan from the stands was noticeable.
Peterson recovered in time for the season opener against Bowling Green. He came off the bench and rushed for 100 yards and scored on a 35-yard touchdown run. ESPN replayed the highlight several times the rest of the day. Peterson tallied 117 yards against Houston and almost scored on a 38-yard run. Officials ruled him out at the 1.
"Adrian made his mark," Stoops said after the opener. The coach was clearly excited.
Stoops, as a rule, does not allow any freshman to speak with the media until the player contributes. The demand for Peterson is so great that Stoops is still shielding the player somewhat. Peterson has spoken with the media only twice – after the Bowling Green and Houston games.
"College is a different level, and this is a physical sport," Peterson said Saturday night. "I have to realize that you just can't run over everybody. You've got to put a couple of moves on everybody. Hopefully, I'll get better."
Teammates say Peterson has been accepted in the locker room. He's just another guy, fullback J.D. Runnels said.
Jones answered a barrage of questions about Peterson throughout training camp. It became an everyday occurrence. An Oklahoma newspaper openly speculated that Peterson would take Jones' job before OU faces Texas on Oct. 9.
Jones scored points with the coaching staff for handling the Peterson questions with class.
"It's not about competition between me and Adrian," Jones said. "We're both trying to do what we can to make the team better."
Stoops said that everything he's seen since Peterson has been on campus is team oriented.
"In initial meetings and talking with him, you get a sense of pride he has in doing things right," Stoops said.
Those who know Peterson probably wouldn't expect anything less.
Oregon at No. 2 Oklahoma, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Norman, Okla. (Ch. 8, KKGM-AM 1630)
Nelson and Bonita Peterson
A.D. It was given to him when he was young, because Peterson could run "all day."
Ranked the No. 1 recruit in the nation by Rivals.com and CollegeFootballNews.com. Ranked third nationally by Insiders.com and SuperPrep. ... Named PrepStar national player of the year and an All-American. ... Rushed for 2,960 yards and scored 32 touchdowns as a senior. During his junior year, Peterson rushed for 2,051 yards and scored 22 touchdowns. ... Played in the U.S. Army High School All-American game and had 95 yards on nine carries.
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Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson, who is on pace for a 1,193-yard season and the school's freshman rushing record. OU's top freshman rushers:
SOURCE: Oklahoma media guide
Here's a look at the top five freshman running backs in Division I-A:
Player Team Att. Yards NCAA rank
Adrian Peterson Oklahoma 41 217 No. 26 Tierre Green Nebraska 18 178 No. 48 Danny Ware Georgia 26 176 No. 53 Jayson Bird Idaho 21 171 No. 58 Kalvin McRae Ohio 30 153 No. 66 SOURCE: NCAA statistics