Sunday slant: Youth coach reminisces on A.D.

The NFL knows how dominant Adrian Peterson is, but his youth coach and mentor regales with story after story about his power at a young age, the recruiting process and more.

Adrian Peterson’s dominance started long before he ever set the NFL single-game rushing record with a 296-yard performance against the San Diego Chargers on Nov. 4 of his rookie year. Or before he ran for 224 yards against the Chicago Bears three weeks earlier. Even before he caught a 60-yard touchdown pass in his first NFL game.

“All Day” has been “Always Dominant,” apparently since trading in preschool for grade school. His father, Nelson, started working with the star running back a decade before he ever got on the radar of many college programs.

As young as 7, Peterson was impressive on the football field and driven already then like he is now, says Steve Eudey, his youth coach back then that turned into his lifetime mentor, friend and legal guardian for 14 months.

“They always tease me I was not a very good coach, but I could always get talent,” Eudey said while attending a Vikings training camp practice in Mankato earlier this month. “I asked his dad Nelson to be my assistant coach, which automatically put him on my team.”

You can hardly blame Eudey for his resourcefulness. But it would be short-sighted and – after getting to know him, even ignorant – to believe that Eudey just wanted to win. Twenty years of befriending Peterson through thick – like the recruiting process and NFL stardom – and thin – like the ongoing healing from the death of Peterson’s brother when they were youth and then the death of Peterson’s own son last summer – shows Eudey’s interest in helping youth. As do his decades-long volunteering and mentoring the youth of Palestine, Texas.

For the last six years, Eudey has been attending training camps in Mankato. This year his son, Trent, who played quarterback on that youth team, was also watching practice and evaluating catch after catch, hoping the Vikings would turn into the dominant team that Peterson has wished for and pushed for since his arrival in Minnesota.

“Trent’s coaching pretty much boiled down to: get him the (Peterson) as fast as you can. We had two plays. One was hand it to Adrian and the other was fake it to Adrian and Trent run around the left end. We did pretty well. We were very successful,” Steve said.

“Adrian was born to be a running back. Nelson spent a lot of time with him, even at a very young age, before (Peterson) started playing, on handoffs and steps and everything. He was ready. He’s always loved it. All he wanted to be was a running back.”

Naturally, with his athleticism, Peterson competed in track and field, even when he didn’t really know what he was doing in long jump.

“They forgot to tell Adrian there are two places you can leave from – one back here and the other back here (signaling the different launching points),” Eudey said. “So everybody was leaving from the one closest to the pit. He jumped all the way out of the pit in seventh grade. He didn’t land in the sand at all. They didn’t have to rake it after he got done.”

He also played a little bit of basketball – he would have “master dunks,” according to Eudey, who also ran a baseball league. Peterson, however, didn’t play baseball, and Eudey joked that wouldn’t take credit for Peterson’s swings at the celebrity softball game at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game when Jennie Finch struck him out.

But Peterson hasn’t struck out much on the gridiron. There was success at seemingly every turn. Even before high school, his opponents on defense apparently found that discretion was the better part of valor.

That was the case even in an all-star game in Texarkana, according to Eudey, when Peterson was 12 or 13 years old.

“We got over there and it was raining. They don’t tackle him all day long. I mean, never tackle him (for three or four games). They would run him out of bounds or hem him in or group tackling. But nobody all day tackled him. That’s the first time that everybody started talking like, ‘Hey, we might have something here,’” Eudey said.

“All the kids were like, ‘I’m going to remember this trip because I had coconut shrimp on the way up. I’m going to remember playing in the mud.’ I looked at all of them and said, ‘You’re probably all going to remember that you played with Adrian Peterson.’”

Twenty years later, Eudey has story after story about Peterson’s dominance throughout his youth.

For good reason, his high school coach, Jeff Harrell, didn’t want to expose Peterson to too many hits. In one game, Peterson ran for 350 yards and six touchdowns … in the first half.

“He’s kind of animated,” Eudey says of Harrell on the sidelines toward the end of that first half. “He’s like, ‘He ain’t playing in the second half. He ain’t playing anymore. I’m going to take him out.’ I’m like, ‘Jeff, if that’s what you want to do, I don’t care,’ and here comes Adrian down the sideline for touchdown number six. Six in the first half!”

Eudey recalled that game, saying it came against Peterson’s former coach, and one play stood out to both Steve Eudey and his son Trent, who didn’t play quarterback at the varsity level.

“It’s one of these where the linebacker fills the hole, everybody blocks like they’re supposed to, the linebacker is there and then all the sudden you see him just (get thrust back),” Trent said.

Steve said Peterson stepped right over the linebacker after that contact on his way to another long, signature run.

It didn’t take long for the recruiters to come calling. All the expected big players of college football were interested in the running back that was raising eyebrow in Palestine, Texas, and beyond.

He didn’t even play his sophomore season because he was transferring high schools and had to sit out a year after his mother, Bonita, moved back to the Palestine school district. He still practiced with the varsity and everyone there already knew how talented he was.

But with Bonita working two jobs, Eudey took on the task of bringing Peterson on college visits and sorting through the noise.

“Even during my recruiting process when I was going to Palestine, (Eudey) was the one that was taking me to all the trips – A&M and driving me to Louisiana, Oklahoma,” Peterson said. “Him just being so supportive and all because I was always able to know that it was from the heart – no objective or expecting anything. It was just like what family would do when you care about someone.”

The Texas Longhorns pitched to Peterson that they would have the No. 1 quarterback. The Oklahoma Sooners pitched they would have the top defensive lineman. And Peterson wanted to attend the University of Miami, except that the distance would prohibit his family from seeing most of those games.

“You begin to understand that he’s special when you get to Bob Stoops’ parking spot. They take you straight to his office and he accidentally has to leave and Barry (Switzer) is there,” Eudey said. “Through the whole process, Adrian was always Adrian. I’d see these other kids that I’m No. 3. Adrian was never like that. He was always very gracious.”

Eudey said nearly everyone in Palestine was accepting his decision to attend Oklahoma. Eudey ultimately played a big part in Peterson’s development as a person, and Peterson is forever grateful for that relationship.

“I had the opportunity to move in with him and stayed with him for two years,” Peterson said. “I went to a different school. It was a different environment for me. They took me in. They already had two kids, my little brothers Trent and Travis, they’re like a family to me. They’re blood. They’re family. That’s the type of relationship we had.

“He showed the love that he had for me. I’m forever indebted.”

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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