Rebel wide receiver Cory Peterson was known as “Mr. Clutch”
The 2013 Ole Miss football season finally begins in less than ten days when the Rebels kickoff against Vanderbilt. With 19 returning starters being joined by the incoming freshmen from the highly ranked 2013 recruiting class, it is no wonder the Rebel faithful are filled with enthusiasm.
But it’s not only the fans who are excited. Former Rebel wide receiver Cory Peterson is looking forward to the season as much as any supporter.
Peterson finished his career with 1,843 receiving yards, making him one of the most prolific receivers in Ole Miss history. His totals put the Germantown, TN native in elite company—joining the top six receivers of all time at Ole Miss–with Rebel legends Shay Hodge, Chris Collins, Willie Green, Grant Heard, and Mike Wallace.
In a recent interview with HottyToddy.com, Peterson spoke of his playing days at Ole Miss and what he expects to see this season from the Rebels.
When asked to describe what type of receiver he was, Peterson called himself “simply a move-the-chains type of receiver, as opposed to a flashy, big-play guy.” However, Rebel fans who remember his thrilling catches will surely disagree with Peterson’s understated assessment of himself. Anyone who watched him play knows how valuable the hardworking, unselfish receiver was to his team.
When HottyToddy.com asked Peterson to explain how he always managed to come up with a critical catch under extreme pressure, the star receiver said, “I have always had the ability to focus and block out the atmosphere of a big stadium.”
That may be the understatement of the decade.
Peterson’s amazing mental toughness was a big part of his game, and it led the coaches to add the sure-handed Rebel to special teams. “I was dependable as a punt returner,” he said. “I was not going to make mental mistakes and turn over the ball.”
It is this mindset that vaulted Peterson to the top of the Rebel record books and sealed his position as one of the school’s most memorable players.
Here are just a few of Peterson’s magical moments as an Ole Miss Rebel.
Egg Bowl, 1997
It would be hard to forget the 1997 Egg Bowl. Down 7-14 with 25 seconds left in the game, Ole Miss scored a touchdown to cut State’s lead to 13-14. Boldly, Coach Tuberville decided to go for the two-point conversion rather than kick the extra point that would tie the game.
In an epic end to the rivalry game, it was Peterson who caught the go-ahead conversion that gave the Rebels a 15-14 win. This win proved critical, as it not only vaulted Ole Miss to a berth in the Motor City Bowl, but, just as importantly, kept State at home in Starkville.
Punt return against SMU, 1998
In September, 1988 against SMU, Peterson, again, came up huge for the Rebels. Ole Miss trailed the Mustangs 41-19 half-way through the fourth quarter. Joe Gunn scored on a three-yard run with 7:22 left, and the Rebels’ two-point conversion cut the SMU lead to 41-27. The Rebels had cut the lead, but time was growing short.
However, a mere 87 seconds later, it was Peterson who made an electrifying play to get the Rebels right back in the game. SMU punted to the Rebel star, who promptly ran it back 92 yards for a touchdown. This marked Ole Miss’ first punt return for a touchdown since 1996, and the fifth-longest in school history.
On Ole Miss’ next possession, QB Romaro Miller hit Grant Heard for a 44-yard TD pass to send the game into OT, tied 41-41. Deuce McAllister scored on a four-yard run during the first possession of OT, and the Rebel defense held SMU on its ensuing possession to secure the 48-41 win.
Miller completed 32-of-57 passes on the day for 351 yards, with one TD and an interception. Heard and Peterson combined for 16 catches and 181 yards, but it was Peterson’s punt return that helped turn the game around and enabled the Rebels to leave Dallas with a victory.
LSU on Halloween Night, 1998
When looking back at Peterson’s career, it is astounding to see the number of times the sure-handed receiver came up with a critical catch. LSU in 1998 is just another example.
Cory recalled that game played on Halloween at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. “We jumped out to a 31-10 lead on the Tigers heading into the fourth quarter,” he said. But it wasn’t to be that easy, as LSU scored 21 unanswered points in the 4th to tie the game at 31.
Many Ole Miss fans felt their hearts pounding and a sickening feeling growing in their stomachs as they headed into overtime, but Cory Peterson and the Rebels were not going to be denied that day in Oxford.
Ole Miss had the ball on the 25-yard line when quarterback Romaro Miller threw a 20 yard completion to Peterson. Peterson described what happened next. “I caught the ball, turned up-field and saw nothing but daylight. Unfortunately, the daylight closed fast, and as I crossed the goal line I was hit by two LSU defenders. The ball popped out.”
As Peterson fell to the turf, entangled with an LSU defender, he and all of Vaught-Hemingway watched as the ball floated downwards—with the fate of the Rebels hanging in the balance.
Fortunately, as was often the case, Peterson came up big for the Rebels. “I just held my arms up and caught it,” he said.
Touchdown, Ole Miss!
“The thing is,” Peterson went on to explain, “this was before instant replay, so there’s no telling, had I not recovered the ball, how the ref would have ruled the play. He could have determined that I had possession when I crossed the goal line, thereby making it a touchdown. Or, he could have just as easily ruled it a turnover in the endzone.”
If the Rebels had indeed turned the ball over in overtime, all LSU would have had to do was promptly kick a field goal to win the game. But Peterson made the catch and all was well, right? Wrong. The Rebs missed the ensuing extra point, putting them up by a precarious six. If LSU scored a TD on its next possession and successfully kicked the extra point, the Tigers would win.
Fortunately, the Rebel defense held strong and stopped the Tigers on 4th down, giving Ole Miss a 37-31 victory. Rebel fans had no doubt Peterson’s miraculous catch in overtime was the difference in the game.
However, Peterson, as self-deprecating of a player as you will find, was quick to give his teammates credit for the win. “We were in control of the game, but LSU came back on us,” he said. “They had more depth than we did, but every single one of our players contributed and we pulled out the victory.”
Even though this win over LSU was huge, it is not the one Peterson considers the biggest of his career.
Auburn, 1999: The “biggest win of my life”
In September, 1999, the Rebels traveled to Auburn to play the Tigers, but it was far from your typical road game. There was much more at stake than an SEC West victory, as many Rebel fans and players still felt the pain and betrayal from Coach Tuberville’s abrupt departure from Ole Miss the year before when he left to coach the Tigers.
In the highly-charged, emotional game, it should come as no surprise it was Peterson who came up with the game-winning reception in overtime, a 23-yard TD from QB Romaro Miller.
As Coach David Cutcliffe recalled, “It was an option read by Miller and he read it well. He saw that Cory was covered, but he was one-on-one with the defensive back. Romaro just threw it up to him.”
Of course Peterson reeled in the catch to seal the game.
This gave the Rebels the win—but more importantly, a win over their former coach. Following the game, Peterson was quoted as saying, “This is the biggest win of my life.”
HottyToddy.com asked Peterson why he felt the Auburn victory was his all-time biggest, as he had so many huge victories to his credit. He reflected and said, “That game was so meaningful for all of Ole Miss. When Coach Tuberville left Ole Miss to take the Auburn job, a lot of people were hurt. Players were hurt; the town was hurt. That game meant just as much to our fans as it did to us. Getting that win meant the world to us all.”
Bowl Game successes
Peterson went to three bowl games during his tenure at Ole Miss: The Motor City Bowl in December, 1997, and two Independence Bowls in ’98 and ’99; all three were victories for the Rebels.
He reflected on how special it was to the team to win the ’98 Independence Bowl following Tuberville’s unexpected departure. “It was tough on us when Coach Tuberville left,” he said. “We had just lost to State in the Egg Bowl and didn’t think we were even going to a bowl game.”
After the Egg Bowl loss, the Rebels hired Coach David Cutcliffe who was faced with the daunting task of preparing his new team for a bowl game in just a few weeks.
“In came Coach Cutcliffe and an entirely new staff,” Peterson said. “Coach Tuberville had taken all our coaches with him, so there was really no one left at Ole Miss who even knew who we were. When Coach Cutcliffe came in to get us ready for the bowl game, he literally had us put tape across our helmets with our names on them so he and the staff would know who we were.”
No one outside of Rebel Nation gave the team a chance against Tech. “Because none of our coaches stayed, Cutcliffe had to figure out our system in a short amount of time,” Peterson said. “We were huge underdogs to Tech, but ended up winning the game 35-18.”
Peterson looks at the 2013 Rebels
HottyToddy.com asked Peterson to assess the upcoming season and offer his views on what Rebel fans can expect to see.
When asked if he thought Bo Wallace’s absence in spring training due to an injury affected the team going into the fall, Peterson reflected on his own time at Ole Miss. “First of all, I can relate,” he said. “Before my senior year, I pulled my hamstring and missed all of spring practice.”
But he went on to explain why he believes the Rebels are just fine. “Though we all wish Bo had not been injured and needed surgery, the good thing is he already had a year in the SEC under Coach Freeze’s system. Obviously it would have been great to have him in spring training, but it was much more important for him to get healthy. He is a proven playmaker, a proven winner, and I’m excited to see him play this season. From what I’ve heard, he will be in great shape when we kickoff against Vandy.”
Peterson then turned his attention to the talented receivers at Ole Miss. During the off-season, several media outlets ranked Donte Moncrief and Vince Sanders as one of the top-5, most dangerous wide receiver tandems in the nation.
Unfortunately, Sanders broke his collarbone at the first fall practice and is expected to miss several games. “I was really sorry to hear that Vince Sanders went down with an injury,” Peterson said. “He’s a talented player with a great deal of experience, but I look for him to come back and be a major part of the offense.”
As for Moncrief, Peterson didn’t hesitate to describe the significance of the junior receiver. “Well, Donte Moncrief is obviously our star receiver,” he said. “He’s the Grant Heard of this team.” (It is worth noting that Moncrief’s 161 receiving yards against LSU in last season’s game were the most by an Ole Miss player since Peterson’s own 164-yard game against Memphis in 1998.)
Peterson was also quick to recognize the importance of Vince Sanders’ role when he returns to play. “Donte is going to get double-teamed; we all know that. So it’s really important for Vince to be able to get open and make the plays we know he can make. I look for this duo to have a great season upon Vince’s return.”
Peterson emphasized how lucky the Rebels are to have a stable of talented receivers who will contribute following Sanders’ injury. He had high praise for senior Ja-Mes Logan who will move out wide in Sanders’ spot. “Without a doubt, Ja-Mes is going to step up and play huge because he has so much skill at the position.”
Peterson is also confident freshmen Quincy Adeboyejo and Laquon Treadwell will make important contributions. “They will make plays,” he said. “Coach Freeze is going to play a lot of receivers in this style of offense.”
He added, “Wide receiver is a difficult position to come in and make an immediate impact because you’re playing against the best defensive backs in the country in the SEC. However, from what I’ve heard, these are not your typical freshmen. Laquon and Quincy are incredibly talented players with all the physical skills to help the team. I look forward to them making some huge plays for us this season.”
The Nkemdiche Factor
HottyToddy.com asked Peterson to name an incoming player he believes will have the most immediate impact, and he replied, “Robert Nkemdiche.” That is not surprising, given that Nkemdiche was the nation’s top-ranked overall recruit in the 2013 class.
“Nkemdiche is the one player I look to have a Lebron James-type of immediate impact,” Peterson said. “He has the physical size, the explosive ability, and the acceleration to make his mark this year, and with his brother Denzel on defense, as well, you’re going to hear that name a lot this year.”
Rematch against Texas
One difference Peterson expects to see this year will be the Ole Miss performance against the Texas Longhorns on September 14th in Austin. “I was at the Texas game last year in Oxford,” Peterson said, “and one thing I noticed was how huge the Longhorn players were.”
“Though we lost the game, we competed early,” he said. “But then their monster offensive line took its toll on us later in the game. This year, however, we will be much more competitive. I guarantee the Longhorns are going to see a different Ole Miss team in Austin this year,” Peterson said.
Recruiting Rebels: Family matters
When asked to comment on the huge recruiting successes the Rebels had this past year, and seem to be continuing for the 2014 class, Peterson pointed to four factors he believes help make the difference to potential student athletes considering Ole Miss.
“First and foremost,” he says, “is the love from the Rebel fans who unconditionally support the program. Second, is the campus itself. It is such a unique university with so much to offer. Third, is the hospitality one finds in Oxford and at Ole Miss. Both are known for their friendly southern charm.”
But it is Peterson’s fourth factor that seems to resonate most with many potential players—and their mothers. “The family atmosphere that Coach Freeze, the staff and current players have fostered is amazing,” Peterson said. “The staff has done a phenomenal job of making all the players feel like family, and this definitely carries over to the recruits who are considering Ole Miss.”
He went on to add, “There’s a reason Coach Freeze stresses that if he can get a recruit to come take a visit and step foot on the Ole Miss campus, he feels he has as good a shot as anybody in the country in landing that recruit.”
“Character in Action”
At the end of our interview, HottyToddy.com asked Peterson how he hoped to be remembered, and he replied with just one word: “Clutch.”
The great Vince Lombardi once said, “Mental toughness is many things and rather difficult to explain. Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind – you could call it character in action.”
There is no doubt Lombardi, himself, would agree the clutch Cory Peterson was the epitome of “character in action” for the Ole Miss Rebels.
— Evelyn VanPelt, HottyToddy.com Sports Reporter
Evelyn was born in Texas, but has strong family ties to Mississippi. Her relatives are from Hinds County, and her daughter received three degrees from Ole Miss–culminating with a PharmD in 2012. Evelyn studied English at Texas A&M University, but is an Ole Miss Rebel at heart, falling in love with the both the school and Oxford over a decade ago when her daughter began school. Evelyn has a home in Texas, but spends as much time as possible in Mississippi where her daughter still lives. She enjoys covering Ole Miss football for gridirongirl.org and HottyToddy.com. Email her firstname.lastname@example.org