By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD – There are days, maybe when his family is asleep, when Adrian Peterson will take a peek at the YouTube videos of his football highlights at Georgia Southern University.
"Every now and then, I'll pull it up and I'll be just, 'Hey, I was pretty good back then,'" said Peterson, after finishing a session of his free summer camp for students at the Effingham County Middle School.
Pretty good? That's like saying “Those Rocky Mountains are pretty tall.” Or, “I-16 has a little construction going on.”
On July 1, Peterson will turn 44. A whole generation may not know a lot about one of college football's greatest running backs. A perfect fit as a fullback in Paul Johnson's triple option offense, Peterson ran with power and displayed great vision while registering 48 straight 100-yard games (36 in the regular season) and finishing his four years with more than 9,000 rushing yards.
He led GSU to Football Championship Subdivision national titles in 1999 and 2000. The 1999 team averaged 50 points a game.
Numbers tell one story. The Internet backs it up with the flashback of "The Run" – a bowling ball-like 58-yard scamper through the Youngstown State defense in the 1999 championship game. A year later, he had a similar game-winning play to rally the Eagles past Montana.
"During that time, it was like being in the movie," Peterson said. "I didn't understand what all that meant. It doesn't hit you until you grow older. Not even 'The Run,' the next year, the 333 (school single-game rushing mark) and five touchdowns against UMass, the play against Montana, now you think about it and … man… OK."
These days, Peterson works at Georgia Southern as the director of student/athlete development. In many ways, he takes the ball and runs with it. He said his job entails helping young athletes make the transition from high school to college, making sure they're taking the right classes, getting them in internships, and eventually broadening their networks for the real world ahead.
He does some public speaking and, in the summer, runs a free camp for children in fourth to eighth grades. The camp held the first week in June was sponsored by Effingham County schools.
Peterson puts the kids through drills of speed and agility, strength and conditioning. The camp at the Effingham County Middle School is an hour long. Then he hops in his car and drives to South Effingham to do it all over again.
Peterson said he had advantages others didn't have when he was growing up. His brother Mike Peterson (three years older) starred as a linebacker at the University of Florida and played in the NFL.
"I was fortunate to have a great support system with my parents," Adrian Peterson said. "Mike pretty much gave me the blueprint to be successful. I just followed him. I didn't steer right. I didn't steer left. I just stayed with it. Hard work pays off; that's what I learned. As a motivational speaker, I always start it with (the words) hard work and we finish camp saying (the words) hard work.
"Hard work is going to put you in the position to be successful."
No doubt, kids flock to Peterson's camp to take instruction from the College Football Hall of Famer and eight-year veteran of the Chicago Bears.
They soon find out Peterson is not only an athletic star but also a role model.
Peterson shares another phrase to get through the struggles of life – "Pray, perform, persist." As a youth, he prayed for strength to overcome stuttering. As an adult, prayers were needed for the strength to understand the loss of his son A.J. who died of brain cancer.
"(Pray, perform, persist) is a lifestyle now," Peterson said. "With the things I've had to overcome in life, I prayed about a lot of stuff. But you can't just pray about it. You have to have a plan of action, and then be persistent with it."
At the end of camp, Peterson signs and gives away his autobiography, Don't Dis My Abilities, and takes pictures with campers.
And, if pressed, he doesn't mind sharing a few tales about his days of running through Southern Conference defenses.
"I saw a young man in Walgreens. He was maybe 26, 28. And he says, "Mr. Peterson, I appreciate you for making my childhood special," Peterson said. "And I was like, 'Whoa, you just hit me with one there.' We were just in the moment then, but looking back those were good times."