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Peete Will Give Trojans a New Dimension

October 15, 1985|MAL FLORENCE | Times Staff Writer

USC quarterbacks have been generally typecast over the years as passers who stay in the pocket and let the tailbacks do the running.

There have been exceptions, of course. Vince Evans was a running back who was converted to quarterback. Pat Haden could scramble effectively, but he probably couldn't make a living as an option quarterback.

Paul McDonald, Gordon Adams, John Mazur, Tim Green and now Sean Salisbury fit the mold of the classic USC drop-back quarterback in the 70s and 80s.

But that image could be changed by Rodney Peete, a redshirt freshman with the prospect of becoming USC's starting quarterback next season.

Peete adds another dimension to the position with his ability to run--not just scramble--as well as pass.

He is the team's No. 2 quarterback, behind Salisbury, and apparently is content with that role.

"I wanted to be No. 2 coming into the fall and that's where I am right now," he said. "I knew Sean would be the starter and rightly so. I'm just hoping to get more game experience the rest of the year. But I also hope Sean has a great season and we go to the Rose Bowl."

Whenever a quarterback has the ability to run, the question is whether he's a runner first and a passer second, or vice versa.

"There is a tendency for me to get out of the pocket, but I've stayed in there a little longer the last couple of years," Peete said. "People always tell me that I would be a great option quarterback. But I hate running the option. I'd rather throw the ball than run, but if the opportunity is there to run, I will take advantage of it."

Peete made his college debut in the second half against Arizona State Sept. 28, in a game firmly under the Sun Devils' control on their way to a 24-0 victory. Under the circumstances, Peete couldn't make much of an impact.

He played more extensively in a 63-0 rout of Oregon State Oct. 5 and was impressive, throwing touchdown passes of 12 and 2 yards to Al Washington and Joe Cormier, respectively.

"I also made some mistakes," he said, smiling. "One time I was supposed to check us out of play and, unfortunately, I got sacked. I was in the same situation over and over in practice but it didn't happen in the game. That's experience."

Coach Ted Tollner says that Peete, only 19, has an air of confidence and maturity that one doesn't always find in young athletes.

"Rodney is a legitimate threat to run, which can cause all sorts of problems for a defense," Tollner said. "But he also has an excellent release as a passer, a nice touch and good velocity that should improve as he gets stronger."

So Peete isn't just a scrambler who throws the ball downfield as an afterthought. Tollner said Peete has the ability to be equally adept as a runner and passer.

"He also has an excellent understanding of the game," Tollner said. "He picks things up quickly and has good retention."

Peete is the son of Willie Peete, an assistant coach with the Kansas City Chiefs, and that exposure to football has apparently helped him in his mental development as a player.

He is also good in other sports. He was a football, baseball and basketball star at Sahuaro High School in Tucson as a sophomore and junior when his father was an assistant coach at the University of Arizona. He was a catalyst on state high school championship teams in basketball and baseball.

The family moved to Kansas City, Mo., when Willie Peete joined the Chiefs, so Rodney finished his senior season at Shawnee Mission South High School. Although he was hampered by a groin injury, he still was recognized by all of the significant high school All-American teams.

Then the college recruiters moved in and Peete said there was a lot of pressure on him to attend Arizona.

"It was tough not to go there," he said. "All of my friends were at Arizona and, of course, I knew the coaching staff."

But Peete was more interested in USC and Stanford.

"In high school, I was fascinated by John Elway," he said. "He made big plays all the time and he could scramble."

Peete said he was subconsciously influenced by the image of Elway when Stanford recruited him. But he said he was attracted to USC because of its winning tradition.

"I knew I was going to redshirt last year and that didn't bother me," he said. "It gave me time to get settled in college. Then, last spring, I wanted to get more of a feel for the offensive system, which I think I did."

Peete also played shortstop and second base for the baseball team last spring. He hit .225, had 14 runs batted in and 4 home runs.

He plans to play baseball again next spring but added that he will be more active in spring football practice than he was earlier this year.

Tollner has made Peete his No. 2 quarterback, ahead of Kevin McLean, to establish a game preparation order. Tollner also said, however, that Peete and McLean will start out even in spring practice in competition for the starting job that will be vacated by Salisbury, a fifth-year senior. Tollner said that if Peete becomes USC's starting quarterback next season, some definite running plays, such as a quarterback draw, will be designed for him. Then, of course, there are always the impromptu scrambles that stretch a defense.

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