By Tom Luicci
Piscataway, N.J. (Sept. 4, 2014) – Desmon Peoples knew he’d built up some equity through his stellar spring play, after a solid summer and then through a strong preseason camp showing. But he wasn’t sure how much – and how it would hold up when he made his first mistake in a game.
He definitely wasn’t expecting to put that equity to the test in the opener, either.
But that’s just what happened to Rutgers’ third-year sophomore running back when he got delayed by a linebacker coming out of the backfield against Washington State, with his tardiness in getting to the spot he was supposed to be at resulting in an interception at the Scarlet Knights’ 11 yard-line in the first quarter.
Peoples, who appeared in just two games last season, headed to the sidelines expecting the worst. It never happened because of that equity he’d built up.
“I felt a little frustrated at first,” Peoples said. “Coach (Kyle) Flood pulled me aside and said `I wouldn’t put you in a game if I didn’t believe in you. So are you ready to go again? I’m putting you in the next series.’
“I said `yeah, I’m ready to go in. After that I was fine.”
Peoples went on to have the best game of his career, rushing for 36 yards on eight carries after managing just 16 yards on six carries in 2013.
He said Flood’s show of confidence came at a time when that was exactly what he needed.
“I felt like if he quit on me right there my opportunities would have been gone and I wouldn’t have been able to show everybody what I can do,” Peoples said. “I’m grateful for that.”
Peoples knows about squandered opportunities, too. A year ago against Houston, after not playing for five games, Rutgers ran a toss play to Peoples on a third and two in a 14-14 game. He slipped and lost three yards in what wound up as a 49-14 loss.
Peoples didn’t play again in the final six games.
Flood said he stuck with Peoples this time because of what he has shown since the start of spring.
“It’s a repeated performance at a high level – consistency,” Flood said. “That (Washington State mistake) was not a great play for him. But I don’t think one play should take away what has been a really good spring, a really good summer and a really good training camp.
“I didn’t think that one play should be the defining factor in his immediate career. And I did grab him and I said `Desmon I believe in you. You made a mistake but I believe in you because you’ve earned for me to believe in you by your actions.’ He went back in the game and he performed like I thought he would perform and I was really pleased with it.”
Flood also knows that Rutgers needs the 5-8, 175-pound Peoples to be a reliable complement to Paul James as much as Peoples wants to contribute, especially now that Justin Goodwin appears to have found a permanent home at cornerback. The only other two running backs are true freshmen.
“Young players need to be able to learn from mistakes,” Flood said of his handling of Peoples in the opener. “If you just yank them out of the game because they made a mistake it’s tough for them to go back in and play as aggressively as you want them to.”
Peoples, for his part, hopes he has finally given game proof that he can be exactly what the Scarlet Knights need with his explosiveness and speed. He has yet to catch a pass, but insists “that’s next. It’s coming.”
“I think I answered the questions about my ability to run between the tackles and whether I can help this football team,” he said. “All I needed was a chance – not only a chance to play but a chance to make a mistake and move on. I’ve done that.”