Halfway through the 2007 NFL season, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is the obvious choice for NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year. He's challenging Steelers running back Willie Parker and Chargers running back (and former MF cover boy) LaDainian Tomlinson for the league's rushing title, and in week 6, he set the single-game rushing record against the Bears much-celebrated defense, tallying 224 You-Tube worthy rushing yards. We recently sat down with Peterson to talk about his sick work ethic, how he's getting his teammates to train with him, and why he believes he'll one day be the best back in the league (if he's not already).
MF: When did you know you wanted to be a running back? When did you go from a kid running around to training for the NFL?
Peterson: When I first touched the ball as a little leaguer. It was my first game, my second carry, and I took it to the house for like 60, 70 yards. I was always fast, I was always racing guys that were older than me and beating them, so I always had speed. I was able to make good cuts at a young age, on the side of the house with my dad, going through different plays, working on cuts and stuff like that.
I definitely always felt that I could really become something. At that age, I'm not saying you overlook college, but growing up young, you got your uncles and your dad's friends that watch the NFL, so that was the ultimate dream. It wasn't like, "OK, go to college, then..." It was always, "I want to play in the NFL." It's been like that for a long time.
MF: What about your training has prepared you so well for the NFL?
Peterson: I've always been the type to work on a different level, doing more reps of conditioning in the weight room. I work on the little things that are going to make my game better, like changing directions. You're going full speed, and you have someone pointing to different places you have to cut to. In a game, you might break to the outside, and you've got that free safety coming at an angle to cut you off, and you plant and you cut back across the space. So you kind of get the same kind of movement.
MF: You're developing a reputation as a game-breaker. Do you do any drills to build your explosiveness?
Peterson: I run half-gashers across the field, sideline to sideline. I'll work on my take-off, being explosive in that way. I've got guys doing three-trippers here. We did those at the University of Oklahoma. That's over, back, and over. So basically, that's 150 yards, maybe four of those after practice. I got (wide receiver) Aundrae Allison, (wide receiver) Sidney Rice, (cornerback) Marcus McCauley, (running back) Mewelde Moore, I got those guys. They're tagging along now, running those with me.
MF: You're a physical back – is there any way to simulate being hit?
Peterson: When I go out for practice, I'm game speed, every day. I'm out there running like I'm in the game, finishing 40, 60 yards down the field. So it's not a surprise when I go out there and do it on Sundays.
MF: Do you do any mental training to prepare for games?
Peterson: Oh yeah, definitely. That's something I always do. I sit there and visualize myself breaking through the defense, making that cut to make that cornerback or free safety miss and taking it to house against the defense I watched on film on all week.
MF: Is there anything you want to change about your body?
Peterson: I'm around 218 lbs right now. I want to keep my body lean, but I'd like to add a couple more pounds of muscle. If I get my weight steady around 222 lbs, something like that, keeping my body fat low, then that's something I want to do. I want to improve my speed too, my acceleration, to be able to get into the open field whenever I hit the crease.
MF: Has your diet changed since getting into the league?
Peterson: Oh, yes sir. I try to eat a lot of baked foods, fish, chicken, potatoes, stuff like that. Grab me a Muscle Milk. That helps. The stuff Cytosport provides is all I stick with. Cookies N' Cream, it's pretty good (laughs).