Joe Mixon wore Adrian Peterson's No. 28 as a Freedom High School freshman in Oakley, Calif., but was disappointed to find out a year later that the varsity squad didn't have that jersey.
“He had to be 20,” said Freedom coach Kevin Hartwig. “He kept saying, ‘You've gotta buy 28.'”
Hartwig never bought Mixon a new jersey, but that never stopped the five-star running back prospect from playing like Peterson, the former Oklahoma standout and Minnesota Vikings superstar whom Mixon idolizes.
Peterson set NCAA freshman records with his 339 carries and 1,925 rushing yards in 2004, was the Heisman Trophy runner-up that year and has since become one of the NFL's best players. While it would be unfair to expect the same immediate results from any freshman, many have drawn comparisons between the two five-star running backs whose commitments to Oklahoma came nearly 10 years apart to the day.
Mixon gave his verbal pledge to the Sooners early last month, and did it almost exactly how Peterson did in January 2004 — during the U.S. Army All-American Game, wearing jersey No. 28 and within days of an Oklahoma Sugar Bowl appearance against a Nick Saban-coached opponent.
The similarities don't stop there. Mixon is listed at 6-foot-2, 207 pounds. When Peterson joined the Sooners out of Palestine (Texas) High School, he was 6-2 and 210 pounds.
Both players also have become known as tough, physical runners.
“Adrian runs high, and I would say Joe's very similar,” Hartwig said. “They physically run in the same style.”
Hartwig has never discouraged Mixon's physical, punishing running style; the only demand he's ever made has been that Mixon not leave his feet.
“Kids wanna get up and get over, and that's when most kids get hurt,” Hartwig said. “I don't want him to put himself in a bad position by trying to go over the top, or trying to hurdle.
“That's probably the only thing I've ever told him about his running, because I'm not gonna take away what he does best.”
Mixon has been surrounded by plenty of experienced football professionals at Freedom High School. His position coach is former NFL running back Ron Rivers, who played seven seasons with the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons, and before the 2013 season, Freedom's offensive line coach was former Seattle Seahawk Frank Beede.
Coincidentally, Beede played his senior collegiate season at Oklahoma Panhandle State, where his position coach was current OU offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh.
“Ron does a great job with Joe,” Hartwig said. “The running backs stuff is all from a pro guy, so he gets a lot of good stuff.”