Former Chicago Bears running back Adrian Peterson shouted “hard work” and a cafeteria full of Hollydale Elementary School students answered back “pays off!”
That was the theme of Peterson’s inspiring speech to the elementary students: hard work pays off. Having traveled from Chicago to Marietta, Peterson aimed to motivate the students by sharing how he overcame a personal disability to play eight seasons in the NFL.
“Growing up, I was a young kid, who could probably only say five to six words without stuttering,” the record-breaking former Georgia Southern University football player told the students. “I started speech at the age of five, and my last year of speech was when I was 23 years old.”
The kids listened as the veteran football player explained his long journey to overcome his speech difficulties. He admitted to the students that at times he wanted to give up, especially when going to speech class called attention to his disability.
“I wanted to be normal,” Peterson said. “I wanted to be like everyone else.”
However, Peterson set a goal to become a professional athlete, and one of the steps to achieve that goal was to get his education.
“I knew where I wanted to go in life and what it was going to take to get there,” said the inspiring father of four. “At the age of five, my dream was to be a professional athlete. I wasn’t drafted until I was 21 years old. So there were a lot of things I had to do correctly, and one was going to school. I had perfect attendance from kindergarten until my ninth grade year.”
Peterson also offered a few more tips that he followed to become a professional athlete:
Encouraging the kids to stay dedicated to school and their future career, he detailed how he only missed one practice during his NFL career, and it was to have surgery.
“Being a six-round draft pick, each year I had to prove myself that I belonged in the NFL, which I had no problem doing,” Peterson explained. “Hard work allowed me to have an eight-year career [in the NFL].”
Peterson gave another piece of advice to the Hollydale students. Find a role model. He told them to find someone in their lives doing it the right way every day. Peterson looked up to his big brother Mike Peterson, who was drafted into the NFL ahead of his younger brother.
“Everything he did, I did,” Peterson said.
Peterson, who is married to a teacher, also advised the students to develop good habits like reading more. He suggested they start reading 10 minutes every night and increase the amount they read to increase their chances of being successful in life.
Throughout his motivational address, Peterson also emphasized “Mom and Dad know best.”
Getting back to his hard work theme, he encouraged the elementary students to look to their strengths and set goals to get academic or sports scholarships to pay for school.
“The more education you have, the more successful you are going to be,” he told the students. “Start now. It is never to early to dream, but you also have to have goals.”
When it was time for questions, the hands of Hollydale Elementary students started popping up until it was a sea of little hands waving for a chance to get their questions answered.
One student asked Peterson if he liked going to school. Peterson said “yes” because he had to go to school to make it to the NFL.
Other questions focused on football: Did he make it to the Super Bowl; how many people are in the NFL, and who was his favorite NFL player growing up?
Beyond football questions, a student asked him if he had bullies in school. Peterson acknowledged having bullies because of his speech disability. He used the opportunity to encourage the students to never change for someone else, to always remain true to themselves and their education goals.
Peterson’s visit fit in with Hollydale’s school year theme: Go for the Gold. As a fellow Georgia Southern University alum, Principal Jennifer Ridgeway invited Peterson to Hollydale and was pleasantly surprised when he agreed to visit the Marietta school.
Some of the students sported GSU shirts as a tribute to the school where Peterson set college football records for the number of touchdowns.
Before Peterson left the school, members of Hollydale’s Golden Counsel Boys Leadership Club got the opportunity to pose for photos with the former professional football player—an inspiring end to an inspiring event.