Reason to smile: Peters confident heading into senior year for MSU

Jamal Peters (2) recovers a fumble for Mississippi State last season.

Staff Writer

It was Monday morning at Mississippi State’s football complex.
The Bulldogs were going through yet another preseason workout and cornerback Jamal Peters was bringing a ton of energy.
“He’s playing and performing the way he’s supposed to and doing it with a smile on his face,” Mississippi State cornerbacks coach Terrell Buckley said of Peters after practice.
Smiles haven’t always been easy to come by for Peters the last few seasons. Since Peters, now a senior, arrived at MSU as the state of Mississippi’s top prospect in the signing class of 2015, his career has been one littered with adversity.
Off the field and on it, Peters himself freely admits it hasn’t been a smooth ride for him over the course of his Mississippi State career.
“It’s been very challenging,” Peters said.
Some of Peters’ obstacles have been visible. Anyone could see the lengthy, athletic playmaker being tossed to and fro from position to position in the early portion of his career. He started his time as a Bulldog at safety. The following spring, MSU experimented with Peters as a wide receiver. By the 2016 campaign, Peters was moved to cornerback. Though the shift to corner has stuck, Peters admits his confidence in himself at the position is just now at a point where he feels like his old, dominant self that he was when he was a game-changer in multiple ways during his high school days.
Peters’ position switch problems pale in comparison to the other challenges he’s had in his life. Since he has been in Starkville, Peters has dealt with the deaths of several close family members, as well as a friend and teammate. One of Peters’ cousins, as well as an aunt and uncle have all passed away since he’s been at MSU. If that wasn’t enough, he was extremely close to former Bulldog Keith Joseph, Jr., who tragically died in an automobile accident in the latter part of Peters’ freshman year.

All of those losses stick with Peters. Now though, instead of pulling him down, Peters seems to have gotten to a place where he’s been made stronger through the trials.

“It has been a long journey, but I’ve felt God’s grace,” Peters said. “My teammates have been here for me and I’ve had my family, so I’ve been able to overcome all that.

“Football has helped a lot. I can get on the field and lose all distractions. I get to focus on what I need to do on the field. Once I’m off the field, I need my family. I have my days thinking about all the ones that passed away. At the same time, I want to make them all proud and do my thing, be happy and not get too down on myself.”

A confident, rejuvenated Peters would be a welcome sight for Mississippi State this year. It’s not like he wasn’t already productive anyway. In three seasons, he has played in 36 games with 66 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack and three interceptions.

Now though, with all he’s been through, Peters may be primed for more. His position coach certainly believes that’s the case.

“I’ve always just tried to tell (Peters that) it’s all just a part of life and growth,” Buckley said. “You’ve got a young man coming in to college that’s 17- or 18-years-old and everyone goes through deaths, position changes and tough situations. He’s handled it as best as anybody I’ve seen.

“In three short years, it’s been pretty impressive. I’m really, really impressed from the young man I saw when I got here a couple years ago until now. I still think he can grow and turn into a special player.”

Multiple times the last two seasons, Buckley has compared Peters’ potential to that of another guy Buckley coached – former Florida State cornerback and current Minnesota Viking Xavier Rhodes. Peters and Rhodes share a similar body style as tall, muscular corners.

Rhodes was a first-round selection in the 2013 National Football League Draft, so that’s a high bar that Buckley has set for Peters. That’s exactly the reason, Buckley says, that he’s told Peters he can be like Rhodes.

“I told (Peters) he’s still not tough enough (to be like Rhodes), but he shows a lot of similarities and a lot of the same skill set," Buckley said. "I think he’s taken that as a challenge because (Rhodes), in my opinion, is the best corner or one of the best corners in the NFL. Peters is trying to get there. There’s a lot of work to do, but if you don’t have a goal, you don’t have anything to work towards.”

Peters might finally have the chance to put his full focus on reaching the standard Buckley has set. It’s been a bumpy road to get there. However Peters endured the flames of the trials in his life and has come out standing on the other side. He wants to cap it all off with a season to remember as he concludes his career with the Bulldogs.

“I feel like I’m ready to explode,” Peters said. “This is the hardest I’ve ever worked.

“I’m really confident going into the season.”