“I believe it’s the right time to go,” said Peterson. “I’ve pretty much achieved all of my goals. It was pretty much a no brainer for me.”
The press conference, held on the fifth floor of the LSU Athletics Administration Building, marked the end of a remarkable career in the purple and gold.
“It’s been a wonderful time here, these three years at LSU,” said Peterson. “This place will definitely not be forgotten. I definitely bleed purple and gold.”
Head coach Les Miles opened the press conference with a statement of approval for his All-American.
“This is certainly a decision that Patrick Peterson and his family made independent of me, but I want to say, simply, that I agree with it completely.”
The Pampano Beach, Fla. native was the jewel of the 2008 signing class, and it didn’t take him long to shine. Peterson played in all 13 games in 2008 as a freshman, starting the final four. He amassed 38 tackles on the season and picked off a John Parker Wilson pass in an overtime loss against No. 1 Alabama.
Peterson became the leader of the Tigers’ secondary as a sophomore when the LSU defense, under new coordinator John Chavis, returned to the form most LSU fans had become accustomed to over the past decade.
The Sporting News Second Team All-American selection broke up 13 passes and intercepted two more, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
His 41 solo tackles were good for second on the defense behind linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, and he was named first team All-SEC by ESPN and second team by the coaches.
But he saved his best for last.
After watching Trindon Holliday gash opposing coverage units on special teams for a pair of seasons, Peterson was called upon to fill the huge hole left by the diminutive Holliday.
He began his final season as a Tiger by ripping through the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Georgia Dome to the tune of 257 return yards, the most in school history. The performance earned Peterson the SEC Special Teams Player of the Week, a recognition he would win again after what would become his signature play of the season. The junior hauled in a West Virginia punt, turned up field, cut back and dashed 60 yards for a touchdown. Upon his arrival in the end zone, Peterson flashed the Heisman Trophy pose before returning to the sideline.
Peterson later apologized numerous times for striking the pose, but it was returns like those that had thrust him directly into the Heisman race.
Unfortunaltey that would be the last time No. 7 would reach pay dirt as a Tiger, but Peterson ranked seventh in the nation in kickoff return yards and sixth nationally in punt returns. His 116.9 total yards per game ranked fourth in the SEC - and he never played a down on offense.
Wherever Peterson resides in the coming year, he’ll need a substantial sized trophy case.
He nabbed the Jim Thorpe Award for being the nation’s top defensive back, and he also received the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation’s most outstanding defensive player. The SEC coaches named Peterson the 2010 Most Outstanding Defensive and Special Teams Player of the Year, and he was a consensus First-Team All-American cornerback.
Peterson said that he’s been told by experts that he projects as a top five pick in April’s draft.
Despite rumors that Peterson’s weight - 210 pounds - would potentially force a move to safety, the junior expects to play cornerback in the NFL, saying that he loves locking down a guy man to man.
As for the immediate future, Peterson plans to take a week off for his body to recuperate before training for upcoming Pro Day at LSU and then the NFL Combine.
He is currently three semesters shy of graduating from LSU, and he added that he has every intention of finishing his degree.
“I definitely, definitely will be finishing my degree, and hopefully my little ones can come here,” Peterson joked.
Peterson’s early departure certainly leaves a void in the Tiger secondary, but the youth’s performance in the Cotton Bowl gives Miles and Peterson confidence that the vacancy will be filled adequately.
“I want to start off with Tyrann (Mathieu). That guy-- he’s good,” said Peterson. “I told him, ‘Don’t set your goal to be the next Patrick Peterson. Be better than me’. I believe he took that to heart.”
Miles went a step farther.
“Mo Claiborne, Tharold Simon, Ron Brooks and Tyrann Mathieu should certainly give the corner spot a nice talent pool so that we can continue to play at a high level,” said Miles. “I think the spirit with which Patrick Peterson takes on 1-on-1’s or looks forward to 7-on-7’s, I think the secondary saw that, and it became their personality.”