Former Georgia Southern running back Adrian Peterson was named as part of the 2017 College Football Hall of Fame Class in January, and he will be officially inducted during the 60th NFF Annual Awards Dinner Dec. 5 at the New York Hilton Midtown. He will be honored this Saturday with an NFF Hall of Fame On-Campus Salute, presented by Fidelity Investments, when the Eagles host New Mexico State at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN3.
By Matt Fortuna, college football reporter for The All-American.
- Named First-Team All-American four times.
- Only sophomore in history to win Walter Payton Award (1999) as the best player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
- Remains the NCAA Division I all-time leading rusher with 6,559 yards.
- Coached by Paul Johnson.
- Becomes the second Eagles player to enter the Hall.
Pardon Adrian Peterson for not being terribly familiar with the National Football Foundation Annual Awards Dinner. It just was never on his mind. Not when his father was coaching him and his brother back in the day.
Not when he was a prep star who had just three college scholarship offers. Not when he was the nation’s best FCS player who ended up getting drafted way down in the sixth round. None of that stopped Peterson from a successful eight-year NFL career, but it was not until recently that he afforded himself the chance to reflect on a run that is finally being recognized, as he enters the College Football Hall of Fame.
“But now I’m a little bit older and I’m done playing ball,” he later adds with a laugh, “I look back at my stats, and I was pretty good.”
Peterson is the second Georgia Southern player to make the Hall, joining Tracy Ham. He enters after an Eagles career that featured a Division I-record 6,559 rushing yards in regular-season contests and 48-straight 100-yard games. In 1999, he became the first sophomore ever to win the Walter Payton Award, given to the nation’s top FCS player. But when he’s asked for his favorite memories from his time in Statesboro, Peterson turns to the big picture.
“Winning,” he said. “When you win, everybody gets their recognition.”
Georgia Southern made it to the FCS national title game in three of Peterson’s four years there, winning it all in his sophomore and junior seasons of 1999 and 2000. The Eagles made the semis in his senior year in 2001. That stretch was part of the groundwork that eventually helped the Eagles become an FBS program in 2014.
Peterson was a prep stud at Santa Fe (Fla.) High, with an older brother, Mike, playing linebacker for Steve Spurrier’s powerhouse Florida teams. Still, the big offers never materialized, something that only prepared him for the next level when he fell all the way to the 199th pick of the 2002 draft.
“It may not always start out for you how you’d like for it to,” Peterson said. “But if you continue to work and put yourself in position to be successful, things happen for you.”
Peterson exemplified that by overcoming a speech impediment and volunteering his time with children. His autobiography, “Don’t Dis My Abilities,” was released in 2013. He recalls giving a speech about his story at a school in Georgia and being unable to leave town because so many other area schools wanted him to stay and share his journey.
“Once you get to know Adrian Peterson, you see that’s a special young man,” former Chicago Bears and current Illinois coach Lovie Smith said. “He’s had some obstacles to overcome; that’s what he’s been doing all of his life. We put him at running back, boom, he came in and he was an NFL running back that played that way. Special teams, we put him there on special teams — ‘Hey AP, we want you to do this.’ He was one of our core special teams players.
“You want to be around a better man. So it was just a privilege to be around a guy like that. That’s what football is all about: Real men like that.”