Utah football: Utes' Peel heads into 6th season ready to contribute
Most athletes have a hard time getting their degrees by the time they extinguish their athletic eligibility.
Not Utah receiver John Peel: He takes classes so he can keep his eligibility to play.
Thanks to numerous injuries earlier in his career, Peel is heading into his sixth season with the Utes. He could apply for another season, too, if he doesn't run out of classes to take.
"He could get a doctorate if he wanted to," joked Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
Too bad degrees aren't given in knowing the ins and outs of Utah football, for Peel certainly would have earned one by now.
Peel's career with the Utes begin in 2004 when he redshirted after he injured his knee in preseason camp. He played in seven games in 2005, then missed both the 2006 and 2007 seasons with back injuries.
Last year he played mainly on special teams and had just one catch as a receiver, for seven yards against Weber State. Totals on his experiences then were four seasons, 20 games, countless practices and one reception.
The good news for Peel is his perseverance through injuries should pay off in 2009. A combination of the loss of the most experienced receivers plus Peel's improving health has him higher on the depth charts than he has ever been.
Currently he is listed as a possible starter along with senior David Reed, junior Jereme Brooks, freshman Luke Matthews and senior Aiona Key.
While starting would be great, the thought of just getting some regular time as a receiver is reward enough for Peel, who feared his back injury was going to end his career.
"I thought I was done after back surgery," he said. "The docs did a good job of rehabbing me. I feel great. I don't have any problems with it."
Peel has drawn consistent praise during practice from Whittingham, who compares him to former Ute receiver Bradon Godfrey, who was a favorite target over the middle of the field for former quarterback Brian Johnson.
Whittingham envisions Peel playing a similar role for the Utes this year, a safety role of sorts that could be magnified as the Utes break in a new quarterback.
"He is a complete receiver and this is his year and opportunity to show what he can do," Whittingham said. "He has been behind some great receivers and injured a great deal the last three or four years, so this is his chance to show his capabilities."
At 23 years old, Peel already has a degree in economics he received in 2008 and is working toward another one. While returning for another season is a possibility with an NCAA extension for medical hardship, Peel hasn't decided if he'll return.
He wants to enjoy this season first.
"I just want the team to know they can count on me every play and know I'll get my job done," he said. "Whatever reps I get, on first or second string, I'll do what I can for the offense."
John Peel is one of three players who signed in 2004 and remain with the Utes. Here are the remaining players from the 2004 team, which went 12-0 and won the Fiesta Bowl:
|Brad Clifford||Jr.||6-4/250||Backup tight end|
|John Peel||Sr.||6-1/185||Competing to start at receiver|
|Ray Stowers||Sr.||6-0/222||Backup running back|