NORMAN — Torrea Peterson didn't play a snap on Saturday. Didn't make a tackle. Didn't sack a quarterback.
But the Oklahoma defensive tackle had an impact.
A big one.
Peterson gave an amazing gift to four special boys on Saturday. Even though he is a reserve buried far enough on the depth chart that defensive line injuries and suspensions haven't garnered him any playing time, he loves football. Those four boys, middle schoolers who redefined what it means to be teammates and friends, reminded Peterson why he loves it.
“Sports is kind of how I coped with a lot of stuff,” Peterson said of his childhood. “I wasn't really a social person. I was shy.
“Sports kind of opened the door.”
Peterson was always the big kid growing up, and because he was a farm kid most interested in riding and roping, he didn't always find common ground with kids at school.
All of that led to teasing and bullying.
But when Peterson started playing football, it changed his life. There were a couple kids on the team who treated him right from the start, and even as other guys slowly accepted him, he was always thankful for the ones who were friendly and kind from the beginning.
“Kids can be mean,” he said. “It takes a lot for a group of young kids to kind of realize what's right and do the right thing.”
Imagine his surprise, then, when he stumbled across a story with details that nearly mirrored his.
It was a story that I had the honor to write.
Almost three weeks ago, I shared the tale of Keegan Erbst and his buddies. Keegan, an eighth grader at Sequoyah Middle School in Edmond, has muscular dystrophy. Having been in a wheelchair since fourth grade, he has never played a down of organized football and he never will.
This fall, though, his friends Lucas Coker, Colton James and Parker Tumelson decided that he needed to be part of the football team at Sequoyah. They got him a jersey, then surprised him with it. They asked him to come to the games and be on the sidelines.
They wanted him to be part of the team.
The story about the boys' friendship and kindness touched many. Numerous readers emailed and called to say what an example the boys were.
But one of the first phone calls that I received was from a deep-voiced man named Shawn Peterson. He said that his son Torrea, pronounced TORE-ee-ay, played football at OU and that he had seen the story on Keegan and his buddies the night before on NewsOK.
What's more, Torrea wanted to do something for the boys.
A lump caught in my throat when Shawn told me that. I'm glad he kept talking because I couldn't.
Torrea had called his dad at home in San Antonio late the night before, which wasn't out of the ordinary, but Shawn could tell that something was on his son's mind.
“I read this article,” Torrea said, “and it touched my heart.”
“What was it, Torrea?” Shawn asked.
Torrea told his dad not only about Keegan but also about his buddies who rallied around him.
“That's what teammates do,” Torrea said.
Torrea thought he'd like to visit the boys at school, but his schedule is packed with school and football. Shawn mentioned another option when he learned that Keegan is a huge OU fan — give the boys Torrea's tickets to the Baylor game.
Shawn called me to see if I could help them contact Keegan, a connection that I happily facilitated, but Shawn said that Torrea wanted to do things quietly. Didn't want any press. Didn't want any attention.
But after meeting up with the boys at the end of the game Saturday, I realized that this was another story of kindness that needed to be told.
While Parker had been to several OU games before, it was the first one for Keegan, Colton and Lucas. Accompanied by Keegan's dad, Scott, and Colton's dad, Doug — Brennan Clay also pitched in his player tickets so the group could have enough seats — they arrived early, and they stayed late.
All of them had a blast.
When the game was over, they made their way toward the locker room exit, looking for Torrea.
He was looking for them, too.
Torrea and the boys spent nearly 10 minutes together, talking and taking pictures.
“I've been wanting to meet him,” Torrea said of Keegan. “Since I read his story, I'd been wanting to meet him. I'm glad I got a chance to do that.”
Let that sink in a minute. A Division-I college football player was jazzed about meeting an eighth grader.
How cool is that?
“I guess I kind of have a soft spot for the underdog getting what he deserves,” Torrea said.
Colton's dad said, “For someone to show this blind act of kindness just by reading an article tells you he has characteristics any parent would want for their child. The University of Oklahoma is blessed to have an athlete like Torrea.”
Even better, it's blessed to have a person like Torrea Peterson.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. You can also like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.