Derek Pegues Finds Fun In The Summer Sun

The campus clock is striking 4:00, the thermometer closing in on 95 degrees, the wind flat-zero, and the humidity turning the practice field—the artificial one made of heat-hoarding plastic, rubber, and concrete—into an outdoor sauna. Derek Pegues grins and proclaims it's time for some fun in the sun.

Is this guy serious? Exactly, the sophomore cornerback explains. "Yeah, we're serious," Pegues says before starting another afternoon's workout. "That's the only way it can be fun, is to compete and try to beat each other in the drill."

Let this defensive secondary concept of summer games begin, as Bulldog defensive backs try to beat both the heat and each other in all the various running and agility sessions administered by strength Coach Jim Nowell. There may not be anyone else cheering them on but for Pegues and partners this is serious fun.

"We motivate ourselves out there just by competing, by being competitive in every drill and going against each other. That makes it fun to come out here every day, we look forward to doing it."

The groundrules to these games aren't too complex. "Really just whoever finishes through the line first," Pegues says. Whether it's one of the typical sprints, scampering around the cones, or some sort of agility drill, first Dog DB to finish wins. He gets bragging rights…at least until the next round. "That's how we motivate ourselves to come out and run every day."

So, Derek…who is the mid-summer leader? That draws a laugh as Pegues notices a teammate/competitor nearby. "Wellllll, you could say it's about even! Jeramie Johnson is looking real good so I'd say he's doing better right now!" Alright then, where does Pegues list himself on the current standings? "Uh, I'd say I rank in the top three. I know I do in agility and things like that." A query about who comes in last draws another laugh. "I can't really say nobody is worst, we're all around the same level. It's just that a couple stand out more than the rest!"

Pegues plans to stand out from the pack himself this sophomore season. The star of Coach Sylvester Croom's 2005 recruiting class, Pegues was put into action immediately and played all 11 freshman fall games. Much of his work was on special teams and he ended up with 599 return yards. But Pegues also worked his way quickly into the rotation at left cornerback, assuming the position when '05 senior Kevin Dockery became a nickel safety.

He finished with 14 tackles, one interception, and a better appreciation of what SEC football is all about. "Oh yeah, it gave me a real good look at what it takes to play at this level. You've got to be full-speed every play and you can't take a play off, because if you do that's a touchdown. Every time."

Dockery's graduation opened up the left corner and Pegues was given first shot in spring. He held on to the job in the face of challenges by prep school transfer Anthony Johnson. Nor was it an issue when the coaches assigned Johnson to ‘his' corner.

"I knew Anthony was a good player because I played with him in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game, both of us were top players coming out of Mississippi and I knew he was great. Me and him are real good friends, it's just a competitive sport."

Pegues can also have some fun while working with his new coach. Melvin Smith's arrival has injected zest into a defensive backfield bunch that already had a well-developed attitude. Oh, of course there is all the nuts-and-bolts instruction, and nobody has more to gain from such training as Pegues. He has learned the hard way that sheer athletic talent is only the entry fee to this level of the game. "Yeah, you've got to play with technique once you reach college football.

"Because everybody runs fast, everybody really has a lot of the same ability. So you have to pay attention to your coaches on the technique part and really take it in and use it." Still there are ways to make lessons fun; such as giggling at Smith's free-wheeling and fast-paced use of the King's English. "He has a lot of little terms he likes to use," Pegues reports. "And we joke around with him sometimes about the way he talks. He's a good coach."

Pegues definitely intends to play well for coach and team this second time around the SEC. He is maturing mentally in the game, and physically the 19-year-old (he turns 20 in September) already looks in prime football shape. That's not entirely an accurate impression; "I weigh 197, they want me to be at 190 before the season. I have no idea where it came from, I came in weighing 183 and was up to like 200!

"I love the way I look now, Coach Nowell has worked with me and the weight program has been real good to me. I'm chiseled up and bigger and faster and stronger, so I like it."

And, he likes making a game out of summer-season swelter. Fall camp isn't that far off now and Pegues is eager to put on the gear again. Until then, he has some workout competitions to win. As the rest of the summer squad trudges towards the field, he grins again. "It's time to get into it!"

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