KNOXVILLE – Tennessee redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Peterman hit a trifecta that no player wants to experience when he made his first and only career start at Florida on Sept. 21.
He performed poorly (4-of-11 for 5 yards, 2 INTs), got injured (thumb) and the Vols lost 31-17.
That could almost be enough to ruin some young careers. But Peterman, who has been back at practice the last three weeks with a wrap on his injured thumb, has battled his way back to taking some second-team reps in practice recently. True freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs is firmly entrenched as the starter for now.
Peterman keeps plugging, though. Coaches and teammates have praised his work ethic in rehab. Even when he couldn’t throw, he stood on the field and took mental reps and worked on his footwork. He admittedly was down after the Florida game. He’s not out, though.
“Probably the greatest word or adjective, resiliency – very resilient,” said coach Butch Jones. “Obviously was disappointed but he is a great character person and he is a competitor. I think it speaks volumes for Jason McVeigh and our entire training staff and Nate Peterman for him to be back to almost full-strength now with his thumb. I think that shows the inner drive that he has had and the push to be back.”
Added Peterman, “They told me to prepare like a starter and quarterback is such a mental position so I was going to do what they told me and try to be the best player I could be. I couldn’t throw a ball, but maybe I could get better mentally.”
Peterman recounted the Florida game, a contest that he was publically named the starter for just hours before kickoff. It was his first meaningful action in college and it came against UT’s rival, in a stadium approximately 90 miles from his hometown of Fruit Cove, Fla., in front of a hostile crowd.
He’s not exactly sure when his thumb injury occurred. Filled with adrenaline and trying to press through a rough start, Peterman tried to keep playing through the pain.
“I knew it was hurt,” he said. “I was kind of willing myself to not be hurt. I didn’t want to be hurt so bad, I kind of hoped it was just a jam, but it turned out to be a little more serious, but like I said, I believe everything happens for a reason.”
He said his faith – and the support of friends, family and teammates – have helped him overcome that game and work to rebuild his career. He’s not exactly sure what his future holds. Tennessee is scheduled to return all four scholarship quarterbacks in 2014, with Justin Worley and Dobb returning with the most experience.
A second chance won’t be a given. Peterman is vowing to keep working to turn a negative into a positive.
“I don’t know [what the future holds],” he said. “I’m going to trust God with everything that happens. I love this sport, I love just coming out here practicing and playing, so I’m going to come out everyday and try to be the best quarterback I can be.
“It was an unbelievable amount of support from everybody – my family, my friends back home, my teammates back here, everybody – even coaches – I can’t say thank you enough.”
. Out: QB Justin Worley, LT Tiny Richardson, TE Alex Ellis, TE Joseph Ayres, WR Ryan Jenkins, DT Allan Carson, WR Jacob Carter
. Non-contact jersey: TE A.J. Branisel, S Brian Randolph, S LaDarrell McNeil, WR Drae Bowles
Quarterback Riley Ferguson, who has been practicing with a brace on his lower leg, didn’t have one on Tuesday. Richardson was working with other injured players in the weight room during the open portion of practice. It’s likely a precautionary move with the Vols on a bye this week.
. Not surprisingly, open-field tackling was a point of emphasis during practice on Tuesday. The Vols worked on getting around a blocker and making plays in the open field in a simulated kick return situation. Tennessee gave up two scores on special teams last week against Auburn and missed numerous tackles in the open field against the Tigers.
. Curt Maggitt, who has been out all season after tearing his ACL last year, was practicing with only a small wrap on his knee after being in a heavy brace most of the season. He was also going through defensive line drills on Tuesday instead of linebacker drills. That’s not to say he’ll play this year, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
. Running backs coach Robert Gillespie was limping around and had a brace on his leg after being injured last Saturday during a celebration.
. With temperatures hovering in the 30s, the Vols practiced indoors on Tuesday.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga