Born on March 21, 1985, in Palestine, Texas, Adrian Peterson overcame childhood tragedy to become a star running back for the University of Oklahoma and the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL. Despite suffering a devastating leg injury at the end of 2011, he returned the following year to challenge the NFL's single-season rushing record and win the Most Valuable Player Award.
Adrian Lewis Peterson was born on March 21, 1985, in Palestine, Texas. The son of a former Idaho State University basketball player (his father, Nelson) and a Texas state high school track-and-field champion (his mother, Bonita Jackson), it seemed inevitable he was headed for a life of athletic success.
Peterson endured notable traumatic moments as a child: At age 7, he watched his older brother, Brian, get killed by a drunk driver; six years later, his dad was arrested for money laundering in connection with drug dealing. As a result, Peterson experienced anger, but learned to channel it into sports. He played basketball and ran track at Palestine High School, but clearly was at his best on the football field. Peterson rushed for 2,960 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior running back, winning National Player of the Year honors from numerous outlets, and committed to play at the University of Oklahoma.
Adrian Peterson immediately adjusted to the heightened competition at Oklahoma. Although capable of outrunning most defenders, the powerful 216-pound back seemed to prefer plowing full-speed into them. Peterson ran for 183 yards in his third collegiate game, and topped the 200-yard mark three times en route to 1,925 rushing yards, a Division I-A freshman record. He placed second in the 2004 Heisman Trophy race, then the highest finish for a first-year player, and was named a consensus All-American.
Peterson sat out four games during his sophomore year with a high ankle sprain, and missed another seven the following season with a broken collarbone before declaring himself eligible for the 2007 National Football League draft. The night before Peterson's scheduled NFL scouting-combine workout, tragedy struck again when his half brother, Chris, was fatally shot in Houston. Despite his loss, Peterson performed well for would-be NFL employers, but questions remained about his injury history. He eventually was selected with the No. 7 overall pick in the draft by the Minnesota Vikings.
As he did in college, Peterson quickly proved an elite performer in the NFL. Nominally a backup, he erupted for 224 yards in his fifth game, and then set an NFL single-game record with 296 rushing yards in Week 8. He finished the 2007 season with 1,341 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, and was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Peterson led all running backs with 1,760 yards in 2008 and 18 touchdowns in '09, but that season ended in bitter fashion with his multiple fumbles in the NFL Championship Game loss to the New Orleans Saints. After a relatively quiet 2010 season, Peterson endured a nightmare finish to 2011 when he tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee. Left off the Pro Bowl roster for the first time, he faced serious questions about whether he could regain his prime athletic form.
Peterson underwent surgery on December 30, 2011, and was relentless in his rehabilitation. Despite earlier predictions that he would miss at least half of the 2012 NFL season, he not only made it back for opening day, but also wound up mounting a serious challenge to Eric Dickerson's 28-year-old single-season record of 2,105 rushing yards.
Peterson began a string of eight straight 100-yard rushing games in Week 7, topping the 200-yard mark in two of the final three games of that stretch. Entering the final game of the season, he needed to gain 208 yards against the Green Bay Packers to surpass Dickerson's mark. Peterson finished the day with 199, leaving him just short of the record, but his 26-yard run late in the fourth quarter set up a game-winning field goal that propelled Minnesota into the playoffs.
Peterson was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player for his efforts. Afterward, it was revealed that the superstar running back had played much of the second half with a painful sports hernia, making the accomplishments of his amazing comeback season even more impressive.
More Family Tragedy
Peterson faced more family tragedy in October 2013: A 2-year-old son of the running back died on October 11, 2013, the victim of alleged abuse by 27-year-old Joseph Robert Patterson, who was dating the boy's mother, police reported. The child had been living with his mother in South Dakota at the time, and was pronounced dead at a Sioux Falls hospital, according to reports. Prior to the incident, Joseph Patterson had been charged with aggravated assault on an infant. Following the incident, Patterson was arrested on felony battery and assault charges in the child's death, and further charges are being considered, according to Sioux Falls police.
Following the news of his son's death, Peterson posted a statement on his Twitter account: "Thank you to my family, my fans and fans of other teams for their support. The NFL is a fraternity of brothers and I am thankful for the tweets, phone calls and text messages from my fellow players. God Bless everyone and thank u so much," the running back tweeted (in three separate posts).
To the shock of many fans and news outlets, Peterson decided to play in the Vikings game against the North Carolina Panthers on Sunday, October 13, just two days after his son's tragic death. "I never thought about not playing," the running back stated after the game, according to CNN. "It was all about going out there and praying that I had the strength to get through and help my team, so that was my focus." Peterson finished the game with a season-low 62 yards on 10 carries, and 21 yards on three receptions.
Child Abuse Charges
In September 2014, shortly after the start of the NFL season, Peterson learned he had been indicted by a Texas grand jury on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. The football star revealed that he had used a "switch" -- a small tree branch -- to whip a 4-year-old son, inflicting numerous cuts and bruises on the child's lower body.
Initially deactivated from the Vikings roster for one game, Peterson was placed on paid leave as public outrage grew over his actions and the NFL's perceived indifference to its players' transgressions. Peterson defended his conduct in the meantime, noting he was merely meting out the sort of discipline he had received as a boy.
In early November, Peterson reached a plea agreement with a Texas court that resulted in a fine and community service, with no jail time. Two weeks later, the NFL announced that Peterson had been suspended without pay for the remainder of the season, and was ineligible to apply for reinstatement before April 2015.
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