New Quarterback Brings An 'Older Perspective'

Towson

August 19, 2009|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

The Towson Tigers need a quarterback and Blair Peterson is knocking on the door. A one-time Mormon missionary, he's certainly up to the task.

A 23-year-old sophomore, Peterson was understudy last year to Sean Schaefer, Towson's record-setting passer who graduated in May. But Peterson's track to the top has been different from most.

After high school, he spurned offers from big-time colleges to serve a mission for his church. The one-time star quarterback from San Antonio fell off the football map and spent two years in Buenos Aires, Argentina, working in slums, building homes for the poor and spreading The Word for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Going on my mission was an extremely tough decision," said Peterson, who left the country in 2005. "I still haven't got all of my [football] skills back. But it was the most worthwhile two years that I've ever spent.

"I wouldn't be half the person I am if I hadn't gone."

One of four quarterbacks at Towson, Peterson is the front-runner to start when the Tigers open at Northwestern on Sept. 5. His maturity and life skills are key, coach Rob Ambrose said.

"Blair brings an older perspective to a young man's game," Ambrose said. "Most of these kids live in the bubble of an 18-to- 21-year-old. He [Peterson] raises that level.

"He is so much of a person that it's a little daunting for some players. They'll ask, 'Is this guy for real?'

"Blair is not an act. He just is."

Peterson has no regrets about delaying football to work abroad. Still, there are moments when he wonders: What if?

"There are times when I'll think, 'If I hadn't left, could I be starting at some big school?' Or, 'Would I have clicked sooner?'

"I'm still getting the rust off. Every day, something else falls into place. But no matter what happens, I know that I wouldn't trade my mission work for anything."

There, in the ghettos outside Buenos Aires, Peterson worked among the poor and the elderly. He and other Mormon missionaries fed the hungry, cleaned streets and rebuilt houses that were little more than cardboard lean-tos.

"We helped one family with 11 kids that was using bedsheets for walls," he said. "It was humbling to hear their prayers for food, yet at the same time they offered us all that they had - one loaf of stale bread that they'd been rationing all week."

Some treated the missionaries badly.

"I was spat upon and punched in the head, just for being an American," Peterson said. "Nine days before I was to come home, I was robbed at gunpoint - on a Sunday."

Despite being 5,000 miles from home, Peterson said, football never left his thoughts.

"I'd wake up at 5 a.m. and run in the streets, which was the safest time," he said. "I welded together a bench press and lifted weights. And, at lunch, I would practice throwing footballs into some nets I made."

On his return, Peterson enrolled at New Mexico. But a coaching change there led to his transfer to Towson. Last year, in limited action, he completed four of seven passes for 27 yards and one interception.

Though Peterson grew up in Texas, his father, John, was the coach at Frostburg State from 1977 to 1980. He's now a scout for the Carolina Panthers.

"Blair has found his niche here," Ambrose said. "He's intellectually savvy, a football player with a brain. He knows so much that he tends to outthink himself. I tell him, 'Don't think. Play.' "

Peterson's leadership skills are a given, the coach said. But will he get the job?

"We'll see how it plays out," Peterson said. "I do know this: Football puts you in the limelight, but it doesn't define who I am."

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