Peterson lives up to the hype

Updated: December 10, 2004, 9:54 PM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

The date was Sept. 18, the opponent was Oregon. Oklahoma center Vince Carter recalls it as "a basic inside zone play." Carter was supposed to burst off the line of scrimmage and block a linebacker to make the play go.

"I couldn't get my hands on him," Carter recalled. "I saw Adrian (Peterson) out of the corner of my eye. He hit the sideline so fast, he was already gone and I hadn't done anything yet."

Adrian Petersen
Adrian Peterson is having one of the best freshman seasons ever.
The Oregon game was when the kid they're calling the LeBron James of football began to truly unveil himself. He'd already gone for 100 yards in each of his first two games as a Sooner, against Bowling Green and Houston. But it was against the Ducks that Peterson first displayed the feet, vision, power and speed of a gridiron artist.

He spun away from tacklers. He powered through tacklers. He left tacklers behind, clutching at air. He picked his way through holes with instinctive vision.

He ran for 183 gasp-inducing yards and two touchdowns -- and as Carter recalled, he didn't need a whole lot of help doing it. By the fourth quarter of a blistering Oklahoma afternoon, he was performing at a different speed than the other 21 guys out there.

"The thing that impressed me about Adrian was all the games where he had 20 yards in the first half, then came out and kept running hard in the second half," quarterback and 2003 Heisman winner Jason White said. "A lot of young running backs won't do that. They'll get frustrated."

Frustration doesn't seem to be part of Peterson's makeup. Neither does failure. Ask him if he's ever struggled on a football field, and the answer is no.

Like James, Peterson came out of high school with hype almost impossible to match -- then did, to the tune of 1,843 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. That's made him the most realistic freshman Heisman candidate since Herschel Walker in 1980 -- to the horror of some college football purists.

"It should go to the best player," Peterson said. "If they want the award to be for juniors and seniors, it would be cool with me. But if it's for the best player, they need to change that. Just be specific."

That qualifies as something of a filibuster for the reserved young man from Palestine, Texas. For a guy who has induced geysers of praise from fans and media members nationwide, he has little to say himself.

Thursday night in Orlando, Fla., at the Home Depot College Football Awards Show, Peterson was his typically reserved self -- other than the startling black-and-white striped suit. When a young reporter asked him how it compared to what he wore to senior prom last spring, Peterson all but rolled his eyes and said nothing. The look suggested kid's stuff.

In August, Oklahoma coaches showed Peterson videotape of former Sooner Heisman-winning running backs Billy Sims (1978), Steve Owens (1969) and Billy Vessels (1952). Subtle? Hardly. But here it is four months later and Peterson is in position to join them.

Asked how he'll feel as a freshman at the Heisman presentation Saturday night, Peterson shrugged and said, "I'll be nervous. That's all part of it."

Asked what he'd say if he won, he said, "I have no idea."

Will he write down a few thoughts, or just wing it? "Wing it."

A Heisman Trophy would all but officially certify Peterson as the most successful freshman in college football history, but that hardly would fulfill his season. There is an Orange Bowl national championship game yet to play, against USC.

"I haven't exceeded my expectations yet," he said, then offered a sly wink. "Hopefully after (Jan.) 4th, depending on how things go down, you can ask me then."

Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

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