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Full Speed Ahead
MICHAEL SILVER
April 30, 2007
On the road to the NFL, Adrian Peterson has encountered more than his share of obstacles, from serious injury to family tragedy. No matter where he ends up playing, he'll be running for his life--and for the loved ones taken from him
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April 30, 2007

Full Speed Ahead

On the road to the NFL, Adrian Peterson has encountered more than his share of obstacles, from serious injury to family tragedy. No matter where he ends up playing, he'll be running for his life--and for the loved ones taken from him

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The latter injury, in a victory over Iowa State on Oct. 14, sidelined Peterson for the rest of the regular season. Yet he returned for what proved to be one of the greatest college football games in history, racing 25 yards for a touchdown on his final carry in Boise State's stunning 43--42 overtime upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. "That describes everything to me in terms of his intangibles," one NFC scouting director says. "Knowing he's a sure top 10 pick and with several people telling him not to risk it, he still comes back to play in the bowl game. His competitiveness just took over."

Where does the fire come from? Ask Peterson, and his soft eyes become misty. "I went through a lot of things growing up," he says. "I spent some nights sleeping in the car. I lost my brother at a young age. My father went to jail. But, hey, everybody's got a story."

Peterson's starts with the horrific accident he witnessed at the age of seven: His eight-year-old brother, Brian, was struck and killed by a drunk driver while riding his bicycle. Peterson remembers the scene "like it was yesterday. It was unreal. I was maybe 15 feet away, on the grass in front of our apartment complex, playing football with some friends. We were in this curved driveway, and [Brian] was riding up and down the hill. I saw him go down and I ran to him, screaming his name. When I got there his head was all swollen. I tried to raise him up a little bit. I said his name. I didn't get a response."

Jackson, the boys' mother, says that for nearly a decade Adrian was so devastated that "he wouldn't open up about it, even to me. He talked to a counselor at school, but that was it. We'd leave flowers every year on Brian's birthday, but for a long time Adrian wouldn't go to the grave site. The two of them were like twins, and it was a real emotional trauma for him."

Peterson says his brother's death "made me a stronger person. When I think about how athletic he was ... I never could beat him in a race. He made all A's in school. Who knows what he might have been able to accomplish. It motivates me to work even harder." It also helped Peterson fight through his grief at the combine. He ran the 40 in 4.38 seconds and had a 38 1/2-inch vertical leap, among other superlatives.

Later that day, in interviews with NFL teams, Peterson answered questions he mostly expected--including those about his close relationship with his father, Nelson, who spent eight years in federal prison for money laundering--and dodged one query that floored him. During his interview with officials from the Raiders, including owner Al Davis and new coach Lane Kiffin, Peterson recalls, "Someone asked me, 'Are you in a relationship right now? You got a girlfriend?' I nodded yes, and he asked, 'So, are you in love?' There were 15 people staring at me, and I just looked back at them. I mean, that's getting kind of personal."

Peterson had no problem revealing his innermost feelings about football. "Teams were asking what kind of back I thought I was," he recalls, "and I'd tell them, 'I'm a little bit of LT [ LaDainian Tomlinson]--his ability to hit the hole, his vision, his breakaway speed--and a little bit of Larry Johnson, with the initial attack and determination.' People were looking at me like I was crazy, saying, 'Uh, that's a pretty good combination.'"

The recollection makes Peterson laugh as he finishes lunch and exits the restaurant with a discernible bounce in his step. "The NFL's the best of the best," he says. "They're not going to be able to stack nine in the box to stop one guy, and I'm pretty sure those 245-pound linebackers won't be able to run me down in the open field. I think about that, and I get excited. I'm ready to go."

Wherever Peterson goes on draft day, this much is certain: He'll take on his next challenge the only way he knows--running headlong, fast and furious, plowing through the pain.

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