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).
MF: Is there anything missing from your game?
Peterson: What's missing from my game? I wouldn't say there's anything missing, but there are definitely things I can improve on. Pass protection, being quicker with my cuts, my vision, just the little details that really make a difference out on the field.
MF: Can you talk a little about your lifting routine before the season?
Peterson: I was lifting two or three times a week, coordinating upper body with lower body, getting my cardio in. That's very important. I really don't like running on a treadmill or riding a bike and all that. I like to feel that I'm getting some work done, so normally, I go outside and run, get that good sweat.
I try to do lunges, single-leg squats, then get my full squats in. I try to work every muscle in my legs from quads to the hamstrings to the calves. I haven't maxed out since college, and I want to say I squatted about 540 lbs, something like that.
I'll probably do a couple sets of 315 pounds for reps now. That is kind of light, but when you up the reps, you really getting quality work in, too. So I'll do probably about three sets of 15, you know, starting from like 12, then I might do 10, finish up with 8.
MF: What part of training do you like, and what don't you like?
Peterson: Oh I enjoy all of it. Some of the guys are like, "man, you're a robot." I know a lot of guys don't really like conditioning, but it's something that's gotten me to the level I'm at now, so I'm just continuing what I've been doing that got me here. I always hit the weight room hard.
MF: How do you recover from the beating you take in an NFL season?
Peterson: Cold tub and massages. Just keeping the kinks and knots out of your body, keeping your muscles feeling fresh and your body feeling fresh everyday after practice.
MF: Experts have labeled you a "franchise back" coming out of college. What is a franchise back to you?
Peterson: A guy you can depend on, that's going to go out there and contribute to the team. A back that has proven himself. A guy that can go out there and perform well.
MF: Is one of your goals is to be a franchise back?
Peterson: Oh yeah. Definitely.
MF: How'd you get your nickname, All Day?
Peterson: It's the name I've been had since I was young. A lot of people get it kind of twisted up, "it's easier to just be AP," but it's the first two initials of my name, AD, All Day. I was so active, always had energy, just running around. I'm pretty sure there are people that just can't sit still, they've got so much energy, always moving, always doing something. That's how I got that name.
MF: You're sharing carries with Viking running back Chester Taylor. What kind of relationship do you guys share?
Peterson: We have a pretty good relationship. I feel like I'm blessed, because it could be the opposite, knowing you're coming in and competing for the position, taking snaps away from someone else. But he really has been like a mentor, helping me a lot on and off the field.
MF: You're a rising star in the NFL, but surely you've had to sacrifice a lot to get here. Was it all worth it?
Peterson: Oh yeah, it's definitely been worth it. This is what I've been dreaming about since I was six years old. Everything that I went through has been like food to me. In life, a lot of things come, but it's how you bounce back from them when they come that counts. A long time ago, I decided that I'm going to use the negative things to feed off of, so that's what I've been doing. I'm living a dream.
MF: Looking into the future – where do you see yourself in five years?
Peterson: Five years? I see myself being the best running back in the league. That's not being cocky or anything, just confident, knowing what it takes to be able to have that label and just going after it. I'm putting the work in. I feel like that's something I can accomplish here in the near future.