Growing up in Pompano Beach, Fla., Patrick Peterson – then Patrick Johnson - was expected to do what most south Florida high school athletes in his position would: sign with the Miami Hurricanes.
Everything looked on schedule when Peterson gave his pledge to the Hurricanes during his junior season.
Yet, Peterson took visits throughout his senior year – which included a stop in Baton Rouge for the Tigers’ 2007 win over Auburn. His list was eventually narrowed to Miami, LSU, Florida and USC. By signing day, rumors swirled that even the Seminoles could land an 11th hour switch from the in-state blue-chipper.
At a January 5, 2008 press conference at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Peterson gave his verbal to head coach Les Miles and LSU. With a couple of comments and the donning of a purple hat, the recruitment of the nation’s top cornerback was finished.
There are a number of reasons that the switch happened, from the Hurricanes struggles on the field to rumors that defensive coordinator Tim Walton – Peterson’s recruiter - was being released from the staff.
A year and a half removed from the ins and outs of his recruitment, Peterson reflected on the crazy times that were.
“It is mixed emotions, even now,” Peterson said. “It really is. But, even if Walton was there, I wanted to do something else. I did not want to do what everyone else did, and a lot of guys from my high school went to Miami. I just wanted to try something new; I wanted to go my own way.”
Peterson’s “own way” landed him in Tiger Stadium, where he battled with junior Chris Hawkins and sophomore Jai Eugene for early playing time last fall. The 6-foot-1, 211-pound freshman logged four starts – the final four games of the season - and played in all 13 contests.
Peterson finished his opening act with 41 tackles, one interception and three pass break ups – promising numbers for the third option at corner. Headed into his sophomore season, Peterson has bigger plans – much bigger.
“I want seven to nine interceptions,” he said. “I push myself pretty hard, and I think I have a chance to get it. I want to focus on taking away the number one receiver. Every snap, I want to guard their number one guy. They want it in his hands, and that is when I can take it away.”
With the entire Tiger defensive staff from 2008 replaced, Peterson said that the offseason was viewed by most on the team as a fresh start. For the sophomore cornerback, learning under first year defensive backs coach Ron Cooper and defensive coordinator John Chavis has improved his game by leaps and bounds.
“I did not go home during the summer, I just stayed here and worked with the coaches.” Peterson said. “I am definitely a better cover corner. The coaches threw me in the fire last year, and since then I have learned a lot. My press game, covering the deep ball and tackling has gotten way better.”
What Peterson picked up on during that time – the virtue of patience - has carried him furthest.
“I watch games from last season, and I realize that a lot of things I was doing was purely on athleticism,” Peterson said. “I have gained patience. I got more technical with my game, and it will be a better year. I had no patience last year, and my mom teased me all the time about it. I feel more confident now because I have relaxed.”
Conversations with LSU cornerbacks of the past also helped the rising sophomore understand the opportunity in front of him, which pushed Peterson harder than ever before to capture each moment.
“Over the summer I talked to Chevis [Jackson], Corey [Webster], Travis [Daniels], and Ronnie [Prude], and they always tell me about the opportunities I have in front of me,” Peterson said. “They tell me that I have the chance to step out of LSU as the best ever.”
Most would think that lofty expectations only add unwanted weight to a player’s shoulders. Yet for a man who was tabbed as a five-star and the No. 1 cornerback prospect in the nation in 2008, it is just another day at the office.
“Being the top rated cornerback in high school, that brings a lot of hype with you,” Peterson said. “I am done with that, and I am going on a new journey. I want to be the No. 1 cornerback in college this year, not high school.”