THEY TALK about his burst, his speed, his tremendous vision, but Adrian Peterson never saw this hit coming. He was waylaid not by a strong safety or a blitzing linebacker, but--this would be funny if it weren't so sad--a boy band. Today he is Oklahoma's freshman tailback sensation. Two summers ago Peterson was 17 and on a bus traveling from his home in Palestine, Texas, to a track meet in Florida. Through his headphones came a song sung by Boyz II Men:
I thought we'd get to see forever,
But forever's gone away.
It's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday.
That tune yanked Adrian a decade back in time, to the afternoon when he was seven years old and watched a drunk driver take the life of his brother Brian, then 11. Suddenly, and to the astonishment of his track buddies, the usually stoic Peterson was sobbing inconsolably.
"He told me that he was listening to a song that reminded him of Brian and all the good times they used to have," recalls Adrian's mother, Bonita Jackson (n�e Brown), who phoned him later that night. "I told him it was good to talk about it, to let it go." She reminded him what Paul told the Philippians: God gives you peace that surpasseth all understanding.
Seven years after he lost his brother, Adrian said goodbye to his father. Nelson Peterson--who'd nicknamed his son AD because, given the chance, the kid would play sports all day--was sentenced to 10 years in prison for laundering money from the sale of crack cocaine. He is scheduled to be released in April 2007.
The human spirit is strong, and the boy who absorbed these blows grew into a happy, well-adjusted young man. People back in Palestine (pronounced Pal-uh-STEEN) are not surprised that Peterson set a Sooners record by rushing for more than 100 yards in each of his first four games as a collegian; they are not surprised to have seen him break tackles against Oregon and Texas Tech the way he broke them on Friday nights against Whitehouse and Nacogdoches.
"I don't want to think that I can hang my head and people will understand because, you know, my dad's not here and my brother's gone," Peterson says. "I'm not going to give in to that. Instead of hanging my head, I make myself do better."
He shared this credo in a hallway of the Barry Switzer Center last Saturday, an hour after No. 2 Oklahoma's 28-13 win over Texas Tech. Earlier, in a rowdy Sooners locker room, coach Bob Stoops had played Santa Claus, giving out game balls, including one to Jason White. The senior quarterback had thrown the 53rd, 54th and 55th touchdown passes of his career, moving him past Josh Heupel into first place on Oklahoma's alltime list, a "remarkable feat," wisecracked offensive coordinator Chuck Long, "considering the short time he's been here." This is White's sixth season in Norman.