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September 30, 2004

Peterson adapting to stardom

Not one player during the Bob Stoops era entered the program with as many expectations. Not one other player has come to Oklahoma during Stoops' reign labeled as the No. 1 high school player in the country.

But after three games and 400 yards this year, Adrian Peterson is starting to show people the hype surrounding his arrival was duly deserved.

The anticipation of Peterson's college career was evident when 11,000 fans showed up at the fall's first public scrimmage. They weren't there to see Heisman Trophy winner Jason White. They were there to see the running back people were saying was the best from east Texas since Eric Dickerson.

But no one could have guessed how that day would end.

It was the day Peterson went down in practice with what appeared to be a serious injury. It was the day a thousand voices collectively gasped. And it was the last time anyone has left a trip to Owen Field disappointed in what they saw from Peterson.

But Peterson's injury is merely a footnote to the start of his career. The injury was mentioned in passing on Tuesday as Peterson gave his first in-depth interview to reporters from all over the country.

Most of the questions thrown at Peterson surrounded his amazing rise to college football notoriety and how he would deal with the pressure. Peterson was named the starter for Saturday's game against Texas Tech. And his first three games served as a nice resume for what is expected to be bigger and better things.

But it was a day for the player nicknamed 'A.D.' (it stands for All Day, if you haven't heard) to be poked and prodded by the media. To find out what made the most celebrated recruit in recent memory tick.

Many Sooner fans know Peterson's story, his past. A father in prison on a conviction related to the sale of drugs. A brother killed by a drunk driver. A self-professed Texas Longhorn fan and a recruitment that included one Texan running a full page ad in the local paper pleading with Peterson to stay in the state of Texas.

"It's difficult because people are always in your business," Peterson said of stardom. "I'm kind of a quiet, low-key type person. People always being in your business and knowing everything about you will get on your nerves."

But as the media found their way past the story of Peterson's past, what they found was Peterson separates himself from those that have come before him on the football field. Not because of his athletic ability, but because of his attitude and character.

If Maurice Clarett is the embodiment of the present-day college super star, Peterson is the antithesis.

"Most people want to hear, 'We need you' and this and that," said Peterson of why he chose Oklahoma as a college destination. "I didn't want to hear that. I didn't want to be in that type of program. That's not the type of person I am."

One would get the impression Clarett was the type of recruit who held out his hand every time he wanted to know how much a school wanted him.

Peterson was every bit the highly touted recruit Clarett was coming out of high school. He could be cocky, he could be demanding and he could be full of himself. But that isn't A.D.

When Peterson showed up in Norman early this summer, he was greeted by White, one of the most visible figures in college football.

"It was cool," Peterson said. "He was the Heisman Trophy winner, the best player in college football."

And when Peterson talked to the media following his record-breaking performance against Oregon, he glowed and seemed bashfully pleased with his progress.

"I think I have like four touchdowns this year? So they don't seem like as big a deal now." He actually had shorted himself one touchdown. But he was noticeably proud of the accomplishment nonetheless.

But just like Peterson continues to improve with each game, he's adjusting to his surroundings in much the same fashion.

White is no longer a heroic figure. He's a teammate.

"We're all the same. Now that I'm playing with him, I'm used to it. It's been an honor playing with him and all the other guys," said Peterson.

Peterson is a mixture of wide-eyed freshman and a confident veteran. In one moment, he projects the giddiness of a true freshman.

When asked if he saw the Sporting News magazine this week which featured him as the cover boy Peterson replied, "No, I didn't know. Somebody showed me though. It was pretty cool."

In the next moment, Peterson sounds like a confident veteran who has been through this rat race so many times before.

"I feel this start isn't really that big of a deal to me," said a casual Peterson. "I'm just focused on the team and I'm going to go out there to just run the ball hard."

Peterson as a rising star at the college level is caught somewhere in between White and a walk-on when it comes to media savvy.

Walk-ons will talk forever. They'll thank you for taking the time out to interview them and tell you what an honor it was to talk to you.

White, on the other hand, has mastered the art of media dodging. He gives his own press conferences on Tuesday, avoids the media for most of the week and always talks briefly with media after games. He's colorless by design and full of coach-speak. He isn't exactly 'media friendly' but he hasn't quite reached 'media jaded' status either.

Peterson exhibits traits from both ends of the spectrum. He is a true freshman in so many aspects of every day life. But he's also a confident football player who doesn't appear to be intimidated by anything.

Peterson admits he dreams about winning a Heisman Trophy. But he isn't caught up in the future. He's focused on the now.

"I just think there's a lot of things I can improve on," said Peterson of his performances thus far. "Jason White talks to me all the time about my steps. In practice I just work on my steps and get my steps down then the hole will be that much clearer. I just work on that all the time. I feel like I've been doing good but I know I can get better."

Peterson is only three games into his college career. But the hype surrounding Peterson's arrival and his performances in the early going have done nothing to quiet the murmurs around him. Family, friends, fans and classmates provide an atmosphere around Peterson which could boost anyone's ego to astronomical proportions.

"It's crazy," said Peterson of the attention. "It's been tight so far. Fans are a lot of fun. It's been everything I thought it would be. But I'm just going to have to live with it."

That's the true freshman talking in Peterson. But the side of Peterson that wants to be challenged and the piece of him which wanted to come to Oklahoma because they would win, "with or without him" says something completely different.

"It's nothing new," Peterson says of the attention he's received since he was young. "All the attention I got, it was cool, but it made me feel indifferent. That's not me. I don't let things like that change me."

That's the side of Peterson which will likely prevail in the long run. And it's the side of Peterson which makes him such a special player at such a young age.

And just as Peterson adjusted to playing alongside Jason White, college offenses and oncoming defenders, he'll soon adapt to life as the big man on campus. He's worked too hard and been this way too long to let those things change him now.

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