Editorial Note: This story was used as the senior feature story for Liberty's game on Sept. 19 against Montana. Darrin Peterson leads the Flames with 50 receptions for 672 yards and six touchdowns through eight games. His team-leading totals have allowed him to become Liberty's all-time career leader in receiving yards (2,936), receptions (197) and tied for first with 26 receiving touchdowns.
Darrin Peterson is completely different off the field than he is on it.
"My personality is laid-back, but when I step onto those lines," Peterson paused, shaking his head with a grin, "I'm everywhere."
Off the field, Peterson is an easygoing introvert.
"When I first met him, I was surprised to see how calm and laid-back he seemed to be," first-year wide receivers coach Ron Brown noted. "He's a really soft-spoken guy. You can barely hear (him) when he talks."
"I'm just a nice, laid-back, soft, mellow person," Peterson shrugged at his signature low volume.
On the field, though, the only thing running as fast as the playmaking wideout's legs seems to be his mouth.
"I'm hyper. I'm energetic. I'm a talker. I can't keep calm — really, it's just something I can't do," Peterson laughed. "I become this aggressive, loud type of person. It's a totally different personality."
Off the field, Peterson admits that, oddly enough, he is not a big football fan.
"This is going to sound kind of weird," he conceded, "but I don't really like football. Other than watching film on the next opponent, I don't really watch football on TV or anything like that. Never have."
In fact, baseball was Peterson's best sport in high school. The multi-sport athlete played basketball and ran track as well. Though he showed promise in all four sports, football happened to be the sport receiving the highest exposure at his school and the one with the most recruitment opportunities.
Peterson went from fielding baseballs to fielding football scholarship offers, including one from Liberty. He visited campus and liked it, as did his mother, whose opinion greatly influenced the student-athlete's final decision.
Now in his final year with the Flames, you would never know football was not Peterson's favorite or foremost sport. Steady but explosive, the lanky, 6-2 wide receiver possesses speed that defies his size and has become senior quarterback Josh Woodrum's go-to target.
By the final whistle of the 2014-15 season, the Big South All-Conference first team receiver had reeled in a program record-setting 85 receptions for 1,379 total receiving yards and program second-best 12 touchdowns.
He ranked fourth in the country in total receiving yards, 10th in receiving touchdowns and receiving yards per game (98.5), and just missed setting a new Big South receiving yards record by a mere 10 yards. All the lofty numbers earned Peterson Sports Network All-America second-team honorees.
"Petey is just a smooth, effortless athlete," Brown stated, referring to Peterson by his nickname. "He's big, he's fast, and he's a big play guy, no question."
"It's definitely good to come off a season like that, and it's a good feeling to hold records," Peterson said of his breakout junior year. "But it's about me staying focused and trying to do what's best for the team."
"Every play is a new. I might make a spectacular catch, or I could drop a pass on the previous play, but whenever I go into that next play, I know I've got an opportunity to make something happen for the team. The individual stats will fall into place."
Peterson's in-game, in-the-moment mentality does not necessarily extend to his off-field life. Off the field, he is a thinker. There's a lot going on inside Peterson's quiet exterior, from analytical tendencies to an artistic bent.
"I think a lot," he stated. "I overanalyze everything. On the field, it's weird, because I don't think — I just do. Stuff I used to have to think about my freshman and sophomore year, I don't have to think about at all now. I just go out there and do it. But outside of football, it's think, think, think, think, think."
And one of his favorite outlets for all those thoughts?
"I like writing and singing," Peterson said.
His older sister introduced him to poetry when Peterson was around eight years old. A few years later in his early teens, he began penning his own.
"I'd been through some stuff in my life, just personal battles, trying to find myself as a young kid. I realized that was a way you could express what you were feeling without being either too abstract or too up front about it. You can kind of have hidden messages. It's more than what meets the eye.
"Sometimes I write songs, but more so poems. I have a whole notebook of them, and the notes app in my iPhone is filled with them. I like writing. It's a good outlet."
When football and school don't leave much time for writing, as they have so often lately, Peterson gets his creative fix through singing. Asked about some of his musical inspirations, the senior eagerly began listing off his favorite artists.
"I sing a lot of Trey Songz, The Weeknd, Chris Brown, Kim — nobody really knows Kim — a little bit of Usher, some R. Kelly," Peterson fired off right away. "And then I've got my old school and soul artists, those are a completely different category."
The mental space Peterson's off-field interests give him only benefit him once it's time to focus on football.
"It definitely gives me a balance," Peterson said. "And it's good, because being a receiver is definitely a mental game. You have to stay focused and have the mentality that you're the best, and you cannot be stopped. Even if you mess up or the defense is talking at you, you've just got to smile, come back on the next play and make something happen."
The dichotomy is unusual, but it works for Peterson. And, it has definitely worked for the Flames. With one win under their belts already and their eyes on a repeat FCS playoff run, Liberty football can depend on Peterson, a man of many differences, to do his part same as always.
by Ryley Rush, a freelance writer for Liberty Athletics
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