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Friday, March 30, 2007
Peterson overcomes adversity, injuries to be top RB

By Graham Bensinger
Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: Between now and the NFL draft (April 28-29), Graham Bensinger will be talking to a high-profile prospect each week. This week, he checks in with Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson.

Graham Bensinger: Since the start of this past school year, how would you describe what this period has been like for you?

Adrian Peterson: It's been a new experience, especially with being able to enter the NFL this year. I've been hounded by different agents and the phone has rang literally out of control. Then, there's all the media attention surrounding whether or not I'm coming out or staying for the senior year.

Bensinger: Let's go back to your early days with the Sooners. It's rare that true freshmen have the level of success that you enjoyed. At 19 years old, you rushed for an NCAA-record 1,925 yards. What was that like?

Peterson: It was just a kid coming in, having a dream, and being determined. It was an outstanding season. (laughs) I sit back and think about it sometimes and am just wowed by it. It all came from hard work and being dedicated.

"That's crazy. ... They shouldn't question my durability. I didn't miss any games my first year with the shoulder injuries. The high ankle sprain was something that completely heals and wouldn't be a nagging injury. Then, there's the collarbone. I've run through people harder and hit the ground harder than that before. It was just a fluke play. It's crazy that people want to question your durability with little injuries like that. "
-- Adrian Peteron on talk that he's injury prone

Bensinger: How do you build off that?

Peterson: (laughs) It's hard to match that! I set my bar high and try to reach for the sky.

Bensinger: Oct. 14, 2006. Talk about an emotional day. Not only is it the first game your father was able to watch from the stands following his release from prison, but you then break your collarbone. What was that day like for you?

Peterson: It was a day that I had been looking forward to for a long time. My dad was out in the stands to see me in person for the first time in nine or 10 years. It was a difficult time and then it was a sad day with me breaking my collarbone. My season was basically ended that day. It was definitely a day of mixed emotions.

Bensinger: You broke the collarbone on a dive into the end zone. When you're lying on that field, what's going through your head?

Peterson: Man, immediately when I hit the ground I knew something serious was wrong with my shoulder. A lot of things flashed through my head. I first asked God to not let it be anything too serious. Then, it was just a matter of seeing the outcome of what the injury actually was. It was hard, but I had to stay strong and be positive about it.

Bensinger: What did your father say to you following the game?

Peterson: He told me to keep my head up. I've been through worse trials in my life than that. Everything happens for a reason. God has my life planned out so I'm just taking it for what it is.

Bensinger: You've had injuries in college and because of that there's the perception that you're injury-prone. What do you say to that?

Peterson: That's crazy. I'm saying that as a football player. People need to understand that I've been playing since I was 7 years old. In high school I took more carries than in college. That's saying a lot considering my freshman year in college I led the league in carries. They shouldn't question my durability. I didn't miss any games my first year with the shoulder injuries. The high ankle sprain was something that completely heals and wouldn't be a nagging injury. Then, there's the collarbone. I've run through people harder and hit the ground harder than that before. It was just a fluke play. It's crazy that people want to question your durability with little injuries like that. It's funny until you realize that guys in the NFL look at stuff like that and take it real seriously. The media blows things out of proportion.

Bensinger: How are you feeling now?

Peterson: I'm feeling good and just ready to get back in action. About two weeks ago, I was doing a photo shoot for Nike and they had us doing some drills. They wanted us to break a sweat and I was feeling it then. If you think about it, I missed eight games. I feel like I've been missing out. I'm just ready to get back out there with the pads on. I want to get out on the field.

Bensinger: What aspect of your game are you most proud of?

Peterson: My vision. I really feel like God has blessed me with good vision. Down at the combine they tested my sight. The guy kept looking at me strange and saying that I have very good vision. I wanted to ask him why he kept looking at me like that. (laughs) He asked someone to, "Come over and look at this kid's eyes while they focus in on the object." He had to call somebody over. Maybe God has blessed me with a little more than a normal pair of eyes.

Bensinger: Obviously, it was a big decision for you to decide to leave school early. Before deciding, you and your parents went to meet with coach Bob Stoops. What was discussed?

Peterson: We looked at everything together. We looked at what my role would be if I stayed. Then, we weighed the pros and the cons of each situation. It was very helpful.

Bensinger: Alan Branch wanted to come back to Michigan and try to win a national championship during his senior season. His concern was passing on an opportunity to be a top pick in the NFL. He said you never know what could happen during a year and if something happened to him, he would be kicking himself for the rest of his life. What factors led to your decision?

Peterson: Mine were kind of similar. Coming in my freshman year and starting off the way that I did … I was a Heisman finalist because I achieved a level that year that most freshmen don't. Then, there were the little injuries. You don't want to think about injuries, but anything can happen. What if I tore ligaments in my shoulder or something more severe? When you consider what's at stake, you don't want to pass it up.

Adrian Peterson
Despite learning of his half-brother's death the night before, Adrian Peterson was able to shine at the combine.
Bensinger: I realize this is a tough topic. You're at the combine. It's the place that players dream of having the opportunity to showcase their skills before the NFL draft. The night before you're scheduled to work out, you learn of your half-brother's death. What were you told?

Peterson: It was hard. I can't even explain what is was like. I'm sitting there hearing about it and was just in a stage of disbelief. I was hearing it but I wasn't believing it. Someone who was that close to me and considering the type of relationship that we had, it was devastating at the time.

I really knew that in my heart and my brother's heart, even though he was no longer here, that he wanted me to go out there and try to perform to the best of my ability. I had talked to him a couple days prior to that Sunday. He was telling me, "Go out there and do your thing and tear it up and make us proud. This is what you've been waiting for."

When I got the news, it was hard. I was up until 2:45 or 3 a.m. I was trying to go to sleep, but with something like that on your mind it was very difficult. I went out Sunday and tried to perform and tried to block it … I did say try to block it out, but that's not something that you can block out. No matter how hard you try, you can't. I just had to stay strong. I got on my knees before I slept and in the morning and throughout the day while I was working out. I asked God to give me the strength to allow me to go out there and try to keep focused. I just wanted to go out there and compete to the best of my ability. It was tough, but God's strength helped me get through the day.

Bensinger: Your strength and poise were remarkable. How were you able to get yourself in the mind frame to participate in the combine drills?

Peterson: I would say just by being a strong person. It started at a young age. My older brother got killed right in front of me. I was 7 years old. I saw him hit by a car. It was the whole nine yards. I saw everything happen. I've been through a lot of trials and tribulations in my life. Are you going to let it affect you in a positive or negative way? You learn to make the best out of the situations that God puts before you. It's prepared me to be strong. It makes me hungrier to continue to do good things and make my family happy.

Bensinger: Not only did you participate in the workouts, but you had a stellar performance. How do you think you did?

Peterson: I'm very competitive. I hate to be second in anything. In all honesty, I think I performed all right. I didn't put on my best performance. I've put up better times in the 40. It was 4.37, but I was really hoping to get in the low 4.3s or maybe even a 4.29. It was not a reach. I had hit it back in Arizona. I was very disappointed in my vertical. People on the outside may say 38.5 [inches] is outstanding, but I was disappointed. I expected to get 40 or 41. That's what I had been testing out at in Tempe. It was hard to stay focused in light of the news, but I just had to go out there and grind it out. It definitely wasn't my best performance.

Bensinger: Many projected top picks opt out of running and/or working out and save it for their pro day. Why didn't you?

Peterson: Just being me and the competitive guy that I am. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and something that I'd been working for a long time to get prepared for. I had nothing to hide. What you see is what you're going to get. The guys watch the film and see what kind of football player I am. I busted my butt so I was ready to go out there and showcase my skills to all 32 teams.

Bensinger: How was the pro day?

Peterson: The pro day was good. I went out and caught the ball well. A lot of people might be surprised, but it doesn't surprise me at all. I feel like I got nice hands. I'm not Randy Moss or Dwayne Jarrett catching the ball behind my back with one hand while diving out of bounds. I could probably make one out of three though! I've got hands. If given the opportunity, I can get out there in the open field and make some things happen. I'm a versatile player that can be used as an any-down back.

Bensinger: Part of this process is meeting with teams -- potential employers. What teams have you met with?

Peterson: That process is just getting started. I'm meeting with Washington and Cleveland during this coming week. Those will be the first teams that I meet with.

Bensinger: What are your expectations for the meetings?

Peterson: I want to check out the facilities and meet with the coaches. I'd like to build some sort of a comfort zone where they know that I'm a genuine guy who's going to go out there and give it my all. That's exactly what teams are looking for. I know, without a doubt, that I can be that player. It's just a matter of making those guys confident in believing the same thing.

Graham Bensinger is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Visit his Web site at: TheGBShow.com. You can e-mail him at graham@thegbshow.com