"The best". It's a term that is used ad nauseam to the point of being cliche'. So much so, that when you hear one described as such, you roll your eyes, read what you assume is a complete sales job and try and find what's real in a world of overused adjectives that often make a player appear to be better than what he is.
Adrian Peterson is not one of those players as he hasn't been sold as the best so much as he has earned it by being ranked as the best running back in the country by more than a few recruiting services and/or would-be experts.
Our own Jamie Newberg calls Peterson "Scary good" as he compares him to the rest of the elite in prep football.
He's the real deal, no doubt about it, physically capable of beating you in just about every way possible. The real attraction though, at least in my estimation isn't his physical attitude, but his mental one. This is a young man that regardless of all the praise on his individual prowess, he is firm on where his goals lie. "It feels pretty good." Peterson said of being speculated as one of the best. "But, I don't think that much about it. I am trying to focus on our team really. I want us to become closer as a team and hopefully make it to the playoffs and get farther."
This "team-first" philosophy isn't a by-product of Adrian reaching all of his personal goals mind you, rather it's a mind-set he has had for some time, stemming from advice given by someone as close to him as anyone could be. "It's really because of the way my dad brought me up." Adrian said. "When I played pee-wee football, it was we play as a team, we win as a team and we lose as a team, so that's what it's all about."
"I'm really not the type that I want to be in the spotlight."
Considering Adrian's current position, that would seem almost if not utterly ironic in that a young man who tries to avoid the limelight has found himself squarely in it. That limelight has made him quite easily the man others try to take down and really, they must if they are going to stop the Palestine offense. Adrian is more than aware of the crosshairs affixed on him this up-coming season, in fact, it's something he has already become accustomed.
"Last year, I knew that defenses were keying on me." Adrian said. "So, when I knew all this number one in the country stuff was going around, I was first like I wanted to prove a point, but I realized that it's just about playing my game, because they were doing this last year."
That may be true, but last year, defenses were trying to stop a good running back that was a potent weapon for Palestine. This year however, players are going to try and stop a name, because as Adrian Peterson has become number one in anyone's book, he transcends from being "just" another guy. This is something that again, Peterson states he's ready for. "They (the defenses) talked a lot of trash to me last year and I know they are going to this year, but that's ok, because it just makes me play harder."
Point of fact, Adrian stated that it's not the rowdy cheering of the home crowd that gets him going more, rather completely the opposite. "I like the boos." he said. "That gets me going more than anything."
Considering what Adrian did last season, getting him going is more than likely the last thing a team wants to do. As a junior, Peterson averaged an impressive 8+ yards per carry, toting the ball each game approximately 30 times. That's not just workmen-like, that's ironhorse duty right there.
Whether it's his stamina in being able to carry the ball that many times a game or what he does with those carries, Adrian is set up to make a resounding statement this season. He's not going to try and make this individual anointment justified however. His goals are pretty simple. "I don't think about all that individual stuff." he said. "The team is really all that matters. The better we do, the happier I am, so all that other stuff really doesn't matter."
It doesn't matter to him, but it's the reason he has almost 40 offers already and you can pretty much name the major school of your choice and chances are, somewhere amidst his pile of offers, there they sit, hoping to find their way to the top. It's something Adrian has thought about, albeit within the scope of his prep career taking precedence and one thing about that next level is foremost on his mind. "I want to go to a college where I can win a national championship."
Taking that mind-set, you can automatically think of a few schools that fit that mold as potential champs year in and year out. Amongst those, one has to wonder if there is a certain type of offense that he thinks fits him best. "Not really." Adrian said. "I would like to carry the ball around 30 times a game, but really, I want to carry the ball as much as I need to for the team to win."
Again with that winning thing. If you ask me, that is what separates players from being one of the best, to being just flat out special. So many kids with so much talent have come and gone, but many with this attitude that it's all about them. This young man though, he's gotten the adulation, he's getting all this personal attention and still, there's one thing on his mind and the only individual aspect to it is what he needs to do to help that team win.
That could very well be the ultimate line between "one of" and "the" best in the country.
As to when he plans on making a decision, during the season, it's all about Palestine, but immediately after the season, that's when it all starts for Peterson and he doesn't plan on taking too long after that before coming to his final choice. "I am waiting until after the season, but once that's over, I want to take my visits right away and get it out of the way." Peterson said.
I doubt that those college teams pursuing him will be as easy to evade as defenders on the field, but there's little doubt that like the usual outcome on the field, the final ending off the field is going to be just as anticipated, if not more-so.
That's what happens when you are Adrian Peterson though. That's what happens when you are one of, if not "the" best.
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619