Former Georgia Southern and NFL running back Adrian Peterson worked hard throughout his childhood growing up in the rural area of Alachu, Fla.
But when addressing students Wednesday at First Presbyterian Christian Academy, the all-time leading NCAA Division I rusher said preparing for a college and professional football career was not the hardest thing he’s endured in his life.
“At age 4, my mom and dad realized I wasn’t speaking and talking as much as the other kids, and when I started kindergarten I was put in speech therapy, where they realized I had a speech impediment,” Peterson said, explaining how he stutters when he talks. “And early on, speech therapy isn’t something I wanted to take. I wanted to be like the regular kids … when I got into the sixth grade, I built up the courage to tell my mom and dad I didn’t want to do speech therapy anymore. And in my household, when you make a statement like that, you have to prove yourself, so my mom gave me the sports pages and I tried to formulate the words for the first sentence and nothing came out.”
Peterson said he realized at that point that his parents were right to keep him in speech therapy, which he took until he graduated from high school.
He said he didn’t realize it at first, but the speech classes were something that came to the forefront of his football career.
“By the second game of my freshman season, I was doing around six interviews a game,” Peterson said, adding that if it hadn’t been for all the hard work and long hours of speech therapy, he would not have been able to speak publicly during his college and professional years. “Somehow, my parents knew they were helping me be ready for the future.”
Peterson said he travels across the nation, hoping to encourage children with speech impediments or learning needs that anything is attainable if you set your mind to it.
“Whatever dream or goal you have … look at me … a small-town country boy with a speech impediment … whatever goal you have, you can reach if you work hard and study hard in school,” he said.
After his speech, Peterson opened the floor for questions.
When asked, he said his father and his older brother are his inspiration.
Peterson’s older brother, Mike, also was a high-school standout football player and received a scholarship to the University of Florida and, up until last season, played for several NFL teams.
He said his father taught him to work hard and kept him straight in school and out of trouble, while his brother paved the road for him as an athlete. With Mike pushing him forward, Peterson played recreational and high-school football and stood out among other players. His athletic abilities were great and his work ethic was impeccable. By the time he finished high school, Peterson had earned a football scholarship to GSU.
But Peterson said everyone has to find their inner strength to push through adversity, especially during the developmental years of elementary and high school.
After the speech, Peterson posed for photos with the Highlander football team and several students. He even took the time to sign autographs and promote his autobiography, “Don’t Dis My Abilities.”
From 1998-2001, Peterson gave the Eagles fans a lot to cheer about.
After his sophomore year, he was awarded the Walter Payton Award as the nation’s top Football Championship Subdivision player, making him the first sophomore to win the award.
In his GSU career, he rushed for 6,559 yards, a Division I record, according to ncaa.org. In 2012, he was inducted into the Georgia Southern Hall of Fame.
In 2002, Peterson was selected to the Chicago Bears in the sixth round of the NFL draft and played for the Bears until 2009. He played in 106 games as a Bear and rushed for 1,283 yards and eight touchdowns on 311 attempts.
He also caught 78 passes for 665 yards, returned 14 kickoffs for 203 yards and tallied 72 total tackles.