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Wildcats' Peterman the ultimate role model
By Lindsey Willhite | Daily Herald Staff

Eric Peterman

 

Northwestern University against Iowa during their game on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2007 in Evanston, Ill. Photo by/Stephen J. Carrera

 

Northwestern University against the University of Minnesota during their game on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2007 in Evanston, Ill.

 

Northwestern University against the University of Minnesota during their game on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2007 in Evanston, Ill.

 

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Published: 7/24/2008 12:06 AM

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Thirty-three of the nation's finest and most recognizable college football players have descended upon Chicago for Big Ten media days.

Guys like Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis, who already boasts two All-America honors, one Butkus Award and one Nagurski Trophy on his resumee. As the Big Ten's most decorated player, he'll provide the players' annual address during Friday's sold-out luncheon at the Hyatt Regency.

Guys like Illinois quarterback Juice Williams, whose star continues to ascend after directing the Illini to their first Rose Bowl in 24 years.

Guys like Wisconsin's Travis Beckum, the odds-on favorite to win the John Mackey Award that goes to the nation's finest tight end.

They all figure to be media magnets over the next 36 hours. And when it comes autograph time for the fans before Friday's luncheon, the lines to land their signatures might snake all the way out of the Hyatt and onto Wacker Drive.

But if the media and the fans want to meet the young man who's getting the most out of his college experience - and giving the most back - they should take the time to find Northwestern senior receiver Eric Peterman.

The downstate Riverton resident packs more learning, workouts, school events and community service into a week than most students do into a year.

And he'd be more than happy to include you in his jam-packed world.

"I just love being around people," Peterman said. "Interacting with people. Making people's day better. Making people smile."

In what figures to be the easiest decision in the world - akin to choosing to punt on fourth-and-30 - the American Football Coaches Association has a chance to name Peterman as a winner of the AFCA's Good Works Award.

When Northwestern put together the third-year starter's official nomination, the school used half of a page to list Peterman's athletic accomplishments.

(Among other things, he's the Big Ten's No. 3 returning receiver after catching 66 passes for 744 yards and 3 TDs last fall. He also uses his 4.4 speed as a gunner on the punt coverage team and likely will return punts, too.)

But then the school needed two full pages to list all of Peterman's good deeds (see the accompanying chart). And that didn't include the unsolicited letter of recommendation from Betsi Burns, Northwestern's Director of Student Development.

Here's the money quote from Burns' letter:

"If I could clone Eric Peterman, I would in a heartbeat. This world would be a better place if more people had the determination, moral compass, motivation to succeed, strength of character and commit to bettering their community as Eric personifies and displays on a daily basis."

Peterman, a staunch Christian, chuckled uncomfortably when confronted with the "clone" quote.

"I've heard that one before," he said.

He chuckled uncomfortably again upon hearing, for the millionth time, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald's favorite tale about him.

It harkens back to Peterman's freshman year, when he was a quarterback expecting to redshirt until Fitzgerald asked him to be a gunner on the scout punt coverage team during Camp Kenosha.

It's basically grunt work for freshmen and walk-ons, but Peterman, who had never served as a gunner before, refused to acknowledge the limited expectations. (Gunners, for those who aren't football addicts, are the guys lined up wide on punts and asked to beat a defender in hand-to-hand combat, sprint downfield and tackle the returner).

"So Eric was on the punt scout team, and Mark Philmore was the returner," Fitzgerald said. "Eric sprints down and tries to make a tackle and misses. Philmore makes three or four other people miss and goes down the sideline. Eric gets up and runs him down 60-70 yards away on the (far) sideline and tackles him."

Fitzgerald, in charge of the scout team, went nuts over Peterman's hustle. He went nuttier once he saw it on video - and couldn't wait to show the clip to then-head coach Randy Walker.

Just like that, Peterman was a starting gunner. Shortly thereafter, he cast aside his still-smoldering quarterback ambitions to move to receiver because the coaches said they needed his help.

"That's Eric in a nutshell," Fitzgerald said. "He'll do anything for the team."

Actually, he'll do anything for any team that wears "NORTHWESTERN" on its jersey.

If there's a men's basketball home game, Peterman will be there wearing purple. Lacrosse? He's there. Field hockey? Softball? There.

Heck, if it's a road game, there's a chance Peterman might turn up, too.

But these sporting pursuits never take away from his academic pursuits.

He owns a 3.33 GPA and will graduate in June with a major in Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences, a minor in Economics and a leadership certificate for one of his many projects.

He admits some of his interests might sound "pretty nerdy," such as the end-of-the-year carnival he puts together for his fellow students in the McCormick School of Engineering, but he doesn't care.

"It's good to have a say in what goes on around the school," Peterman said. "You're not just another student walking through the halls, going to class, going back to your dorm, going to drink beers on the weekend."

After Peterman graduates, Fitzgerald envisions him "being on the vice-president track." But only after he joins Laurinaitis, Beckum and other Big Ten peers in the pros.

"I hope he's in the NFL," Fitzgerald said. "I think he has the skill set to be in the NFL. He'll learn all four receivers positions, he'll embrace all the special teams. Just get Eric Peterman in your camp."