On a recent weekday, coaches at Palestine watched a Peterson highlight video during their lunch break. "Look at him run by them!" said offensive coordinator Tom Allison with a giggle as Peterson sliced through Cleveland High's defense. "They're like little-bitty kids!"
"Is this the game where he knocked that linebacker down, stepped on his chest and went 88 yards for the score?"
"This might be the game he had six touchdowns in the first half."
And so on.
Recruiters descended like locusts. Wyatt established a good rapport with Peterson, double-teaming him with running backs coach Cale Gundy. It was Gundy who got the blue chip's attention with a rather unconventional pitch: "We don't need to butter you anymore. You know how much we want you. But I'll tell you this: We've won more games in the last five years than any other school in the country, and we're gonna keep winning whether you come here or not. You can join us or be on the other side."
Stoops and Wyatt were the only coaches to visit Nelson in prison. Adrian and Nelson have remained close during the father's incarceration. "My dad made a mistake," Adrian says. "Just because he's [in prison] doesn't mean he's a bad person. He's a really great person. He always led me the right way, taught me to be respectful to other people."
With his father's blessing, Adrian was leaning toward the Sooners from the beginning. In spite of the full-page ad taken out by a local fan in the Palestine Herald-Press pleading with him to stay in-state; despite the fact that Bonita's brother Chris Smith, was a defensive end at Texas in the '90s; and even though Adrian kept a poster of Ricky Williams in his room, the Longhorns simply didn't float his boat. Texas didn't help itself by losing for four straight years to the Sooners, including last season's 65-13 debacle, which Peterson watched from the stands.
Peterson announced his decision on live television at halftime of the Army All-Star Game in San Antonio last January. Given the level of attention he had gotten, Oklahoma strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt says there was a presumption among some of the older Sooners that "this guy's gonna come in here and think he's All-Everything." Peterson arrived in June to take part in Schmidt's notorious summer workouts, two-hour sessions in which the players do speed-training for one hour, then lift for another. "It's balls-out," says Schmidt. Is there some upchucking? "Oh, yeah."
Not all incoming Sooners freshmen can finish these sessions, which are brutal "even for the guys who've been in the program for a few years," says Schmidt. "But Adrian, he doesn't get tired. It's amazing." Not only did Peterson complete Schmidt's drills, he also often finished ahead of the older players. "We're out there dying," says Joseph, "and this guy is on skates or something, just leaving us behind."
The Oklahoma running back to whom Peterson is most frequently compared, in terms of ability, is Marcus Dupree, the man-child from Philadelphia, Miss., who played a single season for the Sooners, in 1982, before signing with the USFL. An enormous talent with a correspondingly large appetite, Dupree went home for Christmas break that season, then showed up at the Fiesta Bowl in less than optimal shape. Dupree ran wild against Arizona State, rushing for more than 200 yards in the first half. But he wore down and sat much of the second. The Sooners lost 32-21. "If you'd have been in shape," Barry Switzer, his irate coach, told him afterward, "you'd have rushed for 400 yards, and we'd have won the game." Similar though their styles may be--like Dupree, Peterson is a powerful inside runner with breakaway speed--AD has the superior work ethic.