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Pitt's Peterman focuses on combine amid rising draft stock

| Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017, 7:48 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt quarterback Nate Peterman plays against Va. Tech Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016 at Heinz Field.

When former Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman was in the sixth grade in Jacksonville, Fla., the coach put the football in his hands.

“He played me at center,” Peterman said.

He wanted the ball but not that way.

“Every day, I'd come home and be crying to my dad, ‘Man, I have to get the ball in my hands. I want to play quarterback,' ” Peterman said.

“I was about to quit and go play basketball, but right after that I got a good coach, Steve Briggs. He gave me a chance to play quarterback. Ever since sixth grade, it's been my passion.”

Soon, playing quarterback could turn into more than a passion. It could become a career. Peterman is considered by many NFL Draft analysts as one of the top quarterbacks available this year.

After a successful Senior Bowl, he is ranked sixth by CBSSports.com behind North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky, Notre Dame's DeShon Kizer, Clemson's Deshaun Watson, Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes and Miami's Brad Kaaya.

“For that to be a dream and a possibility right now is pretty awesome,” Peterman said.

Pitt's season ended Dec. 28 at the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City, and only five days later, Peterman was in Boca Raton, Fla., working with trainers and quarterback coach Ken Mastrole in preparation for the NFL Combine. Peterman is one of six Pitt players (Scott Orndoff, Adam Bisnowaty, Dorian Johnson, James Conner and Ejuan Price are the others) invited to the combine, starting Feb. 28 in Indianapolis.

Peterman suffered a concussion in the loss to Northwestern, but doctors cleared him in time to begin workouts.

“They eased me into things a lot,” he said. “I'm not going to say they threw me into the fire right away.”

A few weeks later, he was at the Senior Bowl where he was considered “the most NFL-ready quarterback” on either squad, according to CBSSports.com analyst Matt Eurich.

Former Dallas Cowboys front-office executive Gil Brandt, who evaluates talent for NFL.com, watched Peterman throughout the college football season.

“I think he's a pleasant surprise,” Brandt said. “Everybody is really looking forward to seeing him at the combine. Everybody feels he's probably better than a lot of people initially thought he was.”

Brandt said the combine is important, but he compares it to the Miss America beauty pageant.

“You see them all at one time. You get to compare,” he said. “But I don't think you can ever go by just what you see at the combine as far as guys lighting it up. I've seen guys light it up at the combine and their career isn't very good.

“You look at games against tough teams and especially road games. I was impressed with him when they played (Big Ten champion) Penn State and really impressed with him in that game down at (national champion) Clemson,” Brandt said of Pitt victories in which Peterman totaled eight touchdown passes.

At Pitt, Peterman improved his numbers over two seasons, throwing for 2,287 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015 and 2,855 and 27 last season. He also had only 15 interceptions in 26 games.

“He's got a strong arm, and he's a pretty athletic kid,” Brandt said.

Peterman, who will celebrate his 23rd birthday and first wedding anniversary within days of the NFL Draft on April 27-29, said he pays no attention to the mock drafts. That means he doesn't know CBSSports.com projects he will be drafted in the fourth round, and Chad Reuter of NFL.com says third round (91st overall) to the Kansas City Chiefs.

“My parents, wife and agent said good job (after the Senior Bowl); other than that, I don't look at any articles or mock drafts,” he said. “You have to focus on what you can control and that's right in front of me in Boca.

“I'm putting my head down and working. That's me. That's who I am. Why change now?”

Peterman did allow himself to brag for a moment last week while taking a break from his workouts, but it had nothing to do with football. He graduated from Pitt in December with an MBA, his second college degree.

“The diploma came in the mail (Tuesday),” he said. “I'm pretty proud of that.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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