MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. — Auburn football true freshman Jordyn Peters used to scare his mom by taking his time getting up from a tackle. But Natalie Burt knew something was different about one particular hit on her son in the spring of 2013.
Four years before Peters signed with Auburn as a hard-hitting 3-star safety, he was a rising ninth-grader already playing running back on the Muscle Shoals varsity team. On the final play of the Trojans’ spring game, Peters sped into the end zone for a 60-yard touchdown.
But well after he crossed the goal line, Peters crumpled to the turf — the victim of a late hit from behind.
“The boy tackled him like three or four yards in the end zone,” Burt told SEC Country. “There was no need to tackle him. So the time’s run out. Everybody’s getting their stuff to go and didn’t pay attention that Jordyn didn’t get up. So I was the only one watching, and I was thinking, ‘Jordyn, get up. Jordyn, get up.’ ”
Burt remembered how her son used to lay on the ground for a long time after a tackle in pee-wee football. Peters would stay motionless until a coach came onto the field and ripped him back to his feet by his oversized shoulder pads.
His mom wasn’t a fan of those play breaks.
“He’d do that like three or four times a game,” Burt said. “I finally got him at home and said, ‘If you aren’t dead or bleeding or have something coming out of your body, you better get your butt up and off of that grass so I know you’re OK. Don’t lay out there like that.’ ”
So when Peters did that several years later in his first taste of high school football, Burt knew something was seriously wrong. Peters felt it, too, when a swarm of coaches and players crowded around him in the end zone.
“I can replay the play in my head right now — how I got tackled, how I felt,” Peters told SEC Country. “I can remember when I got tackled, I just spit my mouthpiece out on the way to the ground. It was like, zoom, in slow motion. Then my coaches and teammates were standing over me like I was dead or something.
“I didn’t know what was happening. I woke up the next morning, and my knee was like the size of my head.”
The late hit tore Peters’ patella tendon and cracked the growth plate in his knee. The injury was a huge setback for the young playmaker who seemed primed for a fast start at Muscle Shoals High School.
As Peters describes it, Burt was “all torn up” about her son’s injury. He experienced some bumps and bruises from playing football before, and he still had a couple of scars from horseplay as a kid.
“That was our first big injury, and it was a really scary one,” Burt said.
Peters underwent surgery and was sidelined for several months. Even after rehab, doubt crept into his mind. He wasn’t sure if his promising high school football career was over before it even began.
“When I got back, I still didn’t feel the same,” Peters said. “[Making cuts] off that leg and stuff was weird. I was thinking, like, ‘Am I going to keep playing? Am I going to be able to overcome this?’ ”
Several years later, Peters can say he did more than just overcome the freak injury. He even looks back at it as a blessing in disguise.
“I thank God that I could recover and overcome that to get where I am now,” Peters said. “You never know, without the injury, I might not be who I am now. I don’t know, something else might’ve happened. So I thank God for it.”
Peters went on to start for three consecutive years in the secondary at Muscle Shoals, splitting time between safety and cornerback. The 6-foot-1 defensive back racked up 15 scholarship offers during his time with the Trojans, including ones from Louisville, Michigan, Ole Miss and Virginia Tech.
But Peters decided to play for Auburn, his lifelong favorite school. As a young offensive player, he dreamed of running for long touchdowns that would make Jordan-Hare Stadium roar. Peters said he wanted to be like Cam Newton, breaking tackles and diving into the end zone for the Tigers.
“He kept an open mind during recruiting, but I kept thinking, ‘I don’t know how he can pick anywhere else besides Auburn,’ ” Burt said. “He grew up telling us all the time that he was going to play for Auburn.”
Now, as a safety, he joins a position of immediate need for the Tigers. Coaches say he has the skill set to make an early impact.
“He’s long,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said in February. “I think he’s going to even grow and get bigger. He’s a very good tackler, a very physical guy. We’re very excited about Jordan and think he’s got a chance to be an outstanding player.”
Peters was a relentless ballhawk in high school, making a name for himself on the recruiting circuits with huge hits and a high motor.
All of that, Peters says, stems from the setback he experienced before his freshman year of high school. The new Auburn safety plays every single snap like it’s his last — because he knows everything can change with one out-of-nowhere moment.
“That just pushes me and motivates me more,” Peters said. “I came back from that. I can come back from anything.”