New Viking carries heartache

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 29, 2007 - 9:44 PM

Tragedy has been a frequent intruder in Adrian Peterson's life.

For about five years during the 1990s, Nelson Peterson coached his son's youth sports teams, traveled the country with his AAU basketball squad and considered himself a good father. He also sold crack cocaine out of a Wal-Mart warehouse in Palestine, Texas.

Until that fateful day in 1998, when federal agents closed in, putting Peterson out of business and behind bars for eight years -- or the entire length of Adrian Peterson's teenage years.

"It was a hard time for me with my dad being snatched out of my life like that," Adrian said. "But I had to find a way to cope with it."

Sunday, less than 24 hours after the Vikings made him the seventh pick in the NFL draft, was a sign of just how far Adrian has come.

The former University of Oklahoma running back was basking in the afterglow while seated between Nelson and his mother, Bonita Jackson, inside the Vikings' Winter Park facility.

"Adrian's a pretty unique kid," Bonita said. "He's had big obstacles to overcome in his life. But with a lot of prayers, we made it from Point A to Point B."

Peterson has experienced a lifetime of heartache in his 22 years. When he was 7, he saw his brother Brian, 8, get struck by a drunken driver and killed while riding his bike. Then, in February, on the eve of the NFL scouting combine, Peterson discovered that his stepbrother, Chris Parish, had been shot and killed in Houston. An elite draft prospect who could have skipped the workout, Peterson impressed teams with an outstanding workout that included a 4.38-second 40-yard dash.

"The strength of God has helped me," Peterson said. "Just knowing that he will never give you more than you can handle or bear. It's really how you take everything in and what you make of it. Just look at it in a positive way instead of hanging my head down and having a reason for failure."

Nelson Peterson was raised by two loving, hard-working parents. Drugs weren't a part of his childhood, he said.

But drugs infected his adult life. According to court documents obtained by the Dallas Morning News for a story last fall, Nelson and 22 others were charged with running a crack cocaine operation that did $4 million in sales.

"I was a young guy who made a mistake," Nelson said Sunday. "I got involved in the drug world that I shouldn't have gotten involved in. I was involved in selling drugs and laundering money and stuff like that. I never used them myself."

Nelson and Bonita were outstanding athletes growing up. Nelson, whose best sport was basketball, was a 6-4 guard who was good enough to play for Idaho State University and get a tryout with the Philadelphia 76ers. Bonita was a track sprinter who once ran an 11.3-second 100-meter dash and earned a scholarship to the University of Houston. She swears she would have become an Olympian had she not gotten pregnant with Brian early on in college.

"I got a little bit of my mom in me," said Adrian, who said he once ran the 100-meter dash in 10.26. "My mom, she's funny. She's got a heart of gold. My dad raised me to be a man. He wasn't there for me physically, but mentally he was there."

According to the Dallas Morning News, Nelson's first drug arrest came on Christmas Eve in 1991. He was caught with 0.25 grams of crack and more than $18,000. He received five years' probation.

It was a different story in 1998. He received a 10-year sentence and spent the first two years in the Texarkana, Texas, federal prison.

"Even though I had no previous history of being a violent person or anything like that, I spent maybe two years behind the fence and the barbed wires and all of that," Nelson said. "It was pretty high security. Not a super-max prison."

After two years, Nelson's sentence came up for review. He was moved to a lower-security prison for good behavior and spent the next six years there.

"I was in the same kind of camp that Martha Stewart went to," Nelson said with a laugh.

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