When Jay Peck came to Alabama State four years ago, he hardly received any playing time. Peck, a 5-foot, 11-inch, 200-pound senior, played behind former Alabama State running backs Robert Randolph and Keldrick Williams, who were two of the best rushers in the SWAC.
He couldn't get on the field until last season. Peck waited a long time before he got the chance to showcase his talents. In his case, good things come to those who wait.
It was the third game of 2006 when Peck exploded for 130 yards on 20 carries against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. He followed that up with another brilliant performance against Alcorn State, picking up a career-high 196 yards on 31 carries and scoring two touchdowns. He gained 1,086 yards and tallied eight TDs last season to earn first-team All-SWAC honors.
By then, Hornet fans knew Peck was special player. Now, he's the premiere running back in the conference. Peck has 98 carries for 492 yards, including two TDs in four games. He rushed 24 times for 143 yards to help Alabama State edge Alcorn State, 28-25, last week. It was his third consecutive 100-yard rushing game and the eighth of his career.
"Peck came here from [Columbus] Ohio as a walk-on," said Hornets head coach Reggie Barlow. "He was buried behind two really good backs. He was basically used in a third-down back role. He's always been talented. He could run routes and catch the ball.
"He's patient. He lets the guys set up his blocks well. He's making a lot of plays for us. We're going to lean on him again to rush the ball and get us to where we need to be."
Barlow is going to need a big game from Peck when ASU (4-0) plays host to Southern University (4-0) at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. on Saturday. The ground attack will be important for the Hornets because they have to slow down the Jaguars' outstanding defense.
Barlow expects Southern to keep a close eye on Peck. There's no secret that he's the focal point of the offense. But in spite of the extra attention, he still manages to put up big numbers.
"It's a tribute to our O-line," Barlow said. "Even though teams are preparing for him, those guys have been creating positive running lanes and our receivers are doing a good job of blocking for him. Our [offensive] coordinator [Maurice] Harris is finding ways to get him the ball. We've put him at tailback and wide receiver."
This should be an interesting matchup. Neither ASU or Southern were predicted to be frontrunners in the SWAC. Then again, nobody expected Peck to be a big-time player when he joined the Hornets' program.
"I'm not sure anybody believed he would be as good a running back as he's turned out to be," Barlow said. "He's one of those guys who just gets it. You know what you're going to get from him every day. He comes to practice and works hard. He's already graduated. He understands what he's here for."
• Southern QB Bryant Lee was selected as the SWAC Offensive Player of the Week. Lee connected on 23-of-33 passes for 305 yards and four TDs (both single-game career highs in yardage and scoring passes ) in a 41-34 victory over Tennessee State. Jackson State defensive end Malcolm Palmer was named the SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. Palmer had 12 total stops (seven solo), one sack, a forced fumble and a blocked kick in a 50-16 win over Mississippi Valley State.
Southern linebacker Gary Chapman was named SWAC Newcomer of the Week. Chapman had 11 total tackles (four solo) and 1½ tackles for loss, one sack and a fumble.
• Alabama State's Alex Engram, in his first college game as a punter, averaged 42 yards on six punts -- including a 54-yard punt to pin the Alcorn State offense at the 7-yard line. Engram is also a backup quarterback.
• Norfolk State senior running back Daryl Jones was named MEAC Offensive Player of the Week. Jones scored a career-high four touchdowns, including the game-winner with 36 seconds left, as Norfolk State snapped an eight-game losing streak to Bethune-Cookman. Jones recorded 118 rushing yards on 21 carries with a long of 32 yards. He also caught two passes for 22 yards.
Morgan State linebacker Kofi Nkrumah was named the MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. Nkrumah collected a game-high 13 tackles (five solo) and a sack for a loss of three yards in the Bears' overtime loss to Hampton. He also had an interception, one pass break up and recovered a fumble.
South Carolina State offensive tackle Johnny Culbreath earned MEAC Rookie of the Week honors. Culbreath assisted the Bulldogs to 493 yards of total offense, 309 on the ground, as South Carolina State defeated Winston-Salem State, 20-7.
• Chad Simpson is making a strong bid as the MEAC's top rusher. Simpson ran for a game-high 142 yards on 33 carries, including two touchdown runs against Hampton.
• In a monster MEAC game this week, Delaware State will visit Hampton. The winner of this contest should have a leg up on winning the conference title. The Pirates have won three consecutive MEAC championships, but they'll be tested on Saturday.
Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune.