Back Adrian Peterson’s Combine Statement

Adrian Peterson’s Combine Statement

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Just as Peterson trained relentlessly for the combine, he also prepped for correspondence.

I had practiced doing interviews, mock interviews. Whether it was calling Pizza Hut to order a pizza or asking about the specials, communication had gotten a lot better.
~Adrian Peterson

Georgia Southern legend Adrian Peterson transitioned to the NFL with a remarkable resume, most-specifically the most rushing yards, of any NCAA Division I football player, ever. Peterson finished with 6,559 career yards, counting regular season games only, was a four time-All-American and the first sophomore winner of the famed Walter Payton Award. He rushed for over 100 yards in 48 consecutive games, won back-to-back national championships and, with no further introduction needed, had an iconic play from scrimmage simply nicknamed "The Run". 

Even fresh off a career for the ages, Peterson, inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2017, headed to the 2002 NFL Combine with more to prove.

Though Georgia Southern was an unparalleled 1-AA power, Peterson was still a prospect from a relatively-small school. Other top running backs in the class included William Green from Boston College, T.J. Duckett of Michigan State, UCLA's DeShaun Foster and Miami's Clinton Portis. Peterson's production was certainly historic, but there were administrators and scouts who wanted to see him in perform in person. Evaluators were anxious to see Peterson alongside his professional peers. 

Peterson, records and rings in-tow, went to Indianapolis with a new task at hand, but a mindset all the same.     

"You are always trying to prove yourself, whether it is on the field or off the field. I always set my standard high and was trying to be the best," he explained.

While most athletes focus on, and most pundits react to, physical testing ahead of the NFL Combine, the interview sessions were a critical part of the process for Peterson; not only was he set to answer questions from front office personnel, Peterson was ready to prove a point to himself. The superstar football player had long battled a severe speech impediment and had worked tirelessly to overcome a potentially-limiting condition. The pre-draft process, in ways very few could truly appreciate, awaited as an opportunity and, potentially, an obstacle alike. 

Just as Peterson trained relentlessly for the combine, he also prepped for correspondence. Peterson used seemingly-routine interactions to build his confidence and cohesion ahead of arguably the most important meetings of his career. Such practice sessions were often deliberate and difficult, but the progress made was very much worth the work. Here, too, Peterson had coaches. Away from the football field, the statement he made was and continues to be a resounding one.

"When I was in college I had a great speech therapist, Sharon Milner. I had practiced doing interviews, mock interviews. Whether it was calling Pizza Hut to order a pizza or asking about the specials, communication had gotten a lot better," Peterson shared. "I was actually excited so go out and see how my speech would be."

For whatever his forty yard dash time or footwork drills proved to be, these exercises were some of Peterson's most vital steps to the pros. In terms of potential measured and progress not, his efforts were successful in Indy. The combine experience was a positive one for Peterson. After emerging as one of the greatest college football players of all-time and committing to making the most of an opportunity at the next level, Peterson only validated himself in front of other top prospects, team decision-makers and, perhaps most importantly, the mirror. 

Peterson remembers the interviews fondly.

"It was great. There were a lot of great questions," he recalled. "Some of the ones I remember were 'how are you going to be standing up in a pro-style offense seven yards deep as opposed to being in an option offense when you are back three of four yards deep?' It was easy answer for me: 'It's going to be easy because I can actually see now and see the whole play develop'. That was one question that stood out throughout the interview process."

Ultimately, Peterson ended up being chosen by Chicago in the 6th round, 199th overall, in the 2002 NFL Draft. He became the seventh Georgia Southern player ever to be selected and just the second Eagle, after Kiwaukee Thomas, to go in the top 200. Peterson played eight years for the Bears, suited up in Super Bowl XLI, forcing a fumble in the NFL Championship Game to help Chicago get there. He became part of the fabric of one of the most proud franchises in all of American sports. 

After college, the next chapter proved to be a stark contrast for Peterson, a move coming coming with potential challenges. Though the setting changed, Peterson's approach did not.  

"Night and day. Growing up in a small town of Alachua, Florida where the population was probably about 8,000 people. Then Statesboro, not much bigger. Then Chicago. It was great. It was a good opportunity, had some great guys there," he detailed. "Even after being drafted, I took two years of speech therapy at Northwestern just to polish up on some things in a new environment. Just staying on top of things and always trying to improve myself."

Peterson, serving as a great role model on and off the field, helped further the Georgia Southern brand along the way. From 2013-2017, the Eagles had five players drafted: J.J. Wilcox, Lavelle Westbrooks, Jerick McKinnon, Antwione Williams and Ukeme Eligwe, with a number of other standouts earning NFL roster spots. Peterson, helping pave the way over a decade earlier, was a pioneer. The impact of his influence goes well beyond the numbers.

"It's a great feeling because there was a long stretch that you didn't really hear about guys coming out of Georgia Southern. I got here and my sophomore year we had Earthwind Moreland, who signed as a free agent and played four years, and Kiwaukee Thomas was a fifth round draft pick. After I left, David Young was another fifth round draft pick," Peterson reflected. "Just being a part of that was an awesome feeling."

Clearly, Peterson's place in the College Football Hall of Fame is incredibly well-deserved. That distinction, however, is only part of his wide-ranging legacy. An inspiration and example to others, Peterson, helmet and cleats aside, is a hero. He is an author, chronicling his efforts in the book "Don't Dis My Abilities", an advocate and an ambassador. Despite his stutter, Peterson is a renowned motivational speaker. Furthermore, he currently mentors players as Georgia Southern's Director of Student-Athlete Development.

Peterson has a bio beyond compare. How he has done it is a story to tell.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports