Cover Story: Football's Patrick Peterson

Find this feature in this weekend's
Find this feature in this weekend's "LSU At the Game" program.
Mark Slavich
Mark Slavich

Peterson Creates Buzz With Spectacular Play

Two national championships. Three SEC championships. Four SEC West championships. 

The LSU football program has seen an unprecedented amount of success over the last decade. However, there has been something missing. The program has not in recent years produced a serious Heisman Trophy candidate - the type of player that makes people say 'wow' and creates buzz among fans and media across the country. That is no longer the case.

While entering the Heisman discussion, LSU junior defensive back Patrick Peterson has developed into the type of player that the Fighting Tiger football program had not seen prior to his arrival. His school record 257-yard all-purpose performance against North Carolina earlier this year opened the eyes of those who were not already aware of his talent. And just to be sure he had caught the attention of America, three weeks later Peterson electrified the Tiger Stadium crowd with a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown against West Virginia that he finished off with a Heisman pose.

"It is something that just happened," Peterson said of the pose.

The Pompano Beach, Fla., native has seemingly been a star ever since he stepped onto campus. A five-star prospect by every major recruiting service, Peterson did not wait long to make a name for himself. In fact, he did just that, changing his last name from Johnson to Peterson just before arriving at LSU.

"I was supposed to have my last name changed when my parents got married," he said. "But my dad told me that when I got to college it would be an easy transition, so I got it changed right before I got here."

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Admiringly called "The Freak" by fans, Peterson's first display of excellence came his freshman season against Alabama in which he recorded his first career interception.

"I knew the ball was coming so I turned around and ran and saw it coming out of the sky, and I was lucky enough to land with two feet in bounds," he said.

After starting four games his freshman season, Peterson was still relatively unknown nationally entering his sophomore season. That slowly began to change beginning with the Mississippi State game in which he intercepted Bulldog quarterback Tyson Lee's first pass of the contest and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown.

As great a play as that was, it was his impersonation of LSU third base coach Javi Sanchez on Chad Jones' 93-yard punt return for a touchdown that had people talking.

"Leading Chad Jones to the end zone is my favorite moment since I have been here," said Peterson. "After Chad got into his (automobile) accident (in June), I went to see him in the hospital and he asked me to do the windmill before I left."

The preseason All-American's first real test on the national stage last season came against Georgia, where he was matched up against All-SEC receiver A.J. Green. While Green ended the game with respectable statistics, by most accounts Peterson got the better of Green, cementing his place among the SEC's best defensive backs.

"A.J. Green and Julio Jones are the guys," he said. "I only got to guard A.J. Green one time and that was definitely a fun experience."

His opportunity against Alabama's Jones came a month later. Much like Green, Jones had a solid game statistically, catching four passes for 102 yards and a touchdown. Most of those yards, however, came on a 73-yard touchdown while Peterson was out of the game due to cramps, something that has plagued him for as long as he can remember.

"I pretty much have had cramps since I played little league football," said Peterson. "The doctors tell me that it is a bit of a hype deal. They tell me to stay calm and focus on breathing and to try to get my muscles the most oxygen that I can."

Peterson's cramps were not the story at the end of the Alabama game, however. With just under six minutes to play, Peterson seemed to have intercepted a pass from Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, giving the Tigers the ball and a chance to drive for a winning touchdown. Even after replays appeared to show Peterson getting two feet in bounds, the pass was called incomplete. Alabama went on to kick a field goal on the drive and held on for a 24-15 win.

"It definitely was a tough call, and the referee has the final decision," Peterson said of the play. "It is what it is."

Entering his junior season, Peterson was named to numerous preseason All-America teams and was considered by many the best defensive back in the country. The highest profile player on the team, he found himself on this year's LSU schedule poster. Combined with several other popular pictures that have circulated over the Internet, Peterson has become a photographer's best friend.

"My favorite picture is the one on the poster," he said. "That picture shows the demeanor that exists in our football program."

With the attention that Peterson has received as the face of the LSU team, few would blame him for being at least a little conceited. Despite the attention, though, Peterson has managed to keep things in perspective.

"The attention is all fine, but as a player I have to stay humble," said Peterson. "I have to keep God first because he is definitely the one that has put me into the position to be able to do the things that I'm doing."

Today, Peterson and the Tigers get the opportunity to face SEC West rival Alabama as the Crimson Tide visits Death Valley. The Jim Thorpe Award candidate would like nothing more than to have a big day and cement his place among the all-time Tiger greats.

In an era of LSU football that once lacked a Heisman-caliber superstar, Peterson has taken the recognition and run with it. Exactly how far he will run remains to be seen.





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