Sunday, January 02, 2005

New York City - College Sports

Fabulous Freshman Peterson Fuels Oklahoma

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AP Sports Writer

January 2, 2005, 6:11 PM EST

MIAMI -- At 7 years old, Adrian Peterson was lifting weights and practicing football plays with his dad. "I guess that's how I developed a love for the sport," Oklahoma's freshman sensation said.

Nelson Peterson started his son on the road to stardom, but wasn't around to see him make it this far. In 1999, the elder Peterson was sent to federal prison in Texarkana, Texas, for laundering money for the sale of drugs.

Adrian was in seventh grade.

"It was tough," he said Sunday. "I just try to use it in a positive way. Instead holding my head down, I lifted my head up, just used that to motivate me to keep going and have the will and the drive to do the stuff that I want to do for him."

Even before Peterson and the second-ranked Sooners play No. 1 USC in the Orange Bowl on Tuesday night for the national title, he has already put together one of the greatest freshman seasons in the history of college football.

The 19-year-old Texan has run for 1,843 yards, 20 short of the NCAA freshman record set by Wisconsin's Ron Dayne. His second-place finish in the Heisman voting was the best for a frosh, topping Herschel Walker and Michael Vick, who both came in third.

Just two years ago, Maurice Clarett led Ohio State to a national championship as a freshman. Peterson is poised to do the same -- just as he planned it.

"This was one of my goals to come out of high school and play for a national championship," he said. "I'm not surprised to be here my freshman season because I knew what kind of team I was coming to."

Peterson came to Norman, Okla., from tiny Palestine, Texas, with a truckload of hype. Billed as a battering ram with a burst of speed, he had run for over 5,000 yards and 54 touchdowns in his final two high school seasons and was touted as one of the best runners ever produced by the Lone Star state.

Every college in the country wanted him. He had his pick of the powerhouses. He snubbed Texas, leaving many Longhorns shocked and angry, and narrowed his choices to Miami, Southern California and Oklahoma.

His recruiting trip to USC was his second to Los Angeles. He first visited UCLA.

"I had a lot of fun," he said. "I had a little too much fun."

Peterson won't say how close he was to becoming a Trojan, just that, "I made the best decision for me."

Despite all the Sooners' success in their first five seasons under coach Bob Stoops -- they won a national title in 2000 and played for another last year -- it had been decades since Oklahoma had a big-time back.

Before he ever played a down, Peterson was being compared to Billy Sims and Marcus Dupree.

The buildup didn't impress his new teammates, but Peterson's work ethic did.

"You don't expect a young guy to come in a perform the way he has," center Vince Carter said. "The funny thing about it is he said he was going to do it way back in the summer. He's a man of his word, apparently. He came in and earned the respect of all of us, especially the older guys. He came in and jumped right in and got to work."

Stoops tried to ease Peterson in. Peterson didn't start the first three games, sharing time with junior tailback Kejuan Jones.

When Jones went down with an injury in the third game, Peterson ran for 183 yards against Oregon. The 210-pounder got 146 in his first start against Texas Tech.

Then came the Texas game. Peterson didn't start, but did he ever finish off the Longhorns, running for 225 yards on 32 carries.

"Week by week, I got better and better," he said. "I learned a lot more about the game. The biggest thing for me was just slowing down and letting things develop."

Off the field, the soft-spoken small-town kid has been getting rock star treatment. Fans stake him out on campus, begging for autographs and wanting to snap a photo of him.

"Sometimes it gets overwhelming," he said. "I am not used to people knowing me everywhere I go. I am very low key. Sometimes I sit back and think, 'Is this really happening?'"

Peterson finished the season with a freshman-record 11 100-yard games, bringing balance to an offense that relied too much on Heisman-winning quarterback Jason White last season.

In fact, Peterson is now the focal point of the offense. He has the Trojans' full attention.

"When defensive guys try to tackle him it seems like they slip off him," USC linebacker Matt Grootegoed said. "The defensive guy may have a good solid attack on him and a good hit on him and they just fall off his legs or bounce off his shoulders."

Peterson's nickname is "AD." His father gave it to him and it's short for All Day -- as in how long Peterson can run.

Peterson talks to his father by phone and still gets some advice.

"He's been telling me to go out there and practice hard," he said, "which he knows I do anyway."

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