Photo: Corona del Sol's Cassius Peat (No. 32) signed with Michigan State
I first spoke to Todd Peat Sr. five years ago, introducing myself and asking for his son Todd Jr., a Rivals 4-star recruit planning to visit San Diego State. He handed the phone to his namesake.
That may sound natural to you, but trust me: it’s not always so. Not in a college football recruiting world that breeds attention-seeking fathers and mothers living vicariously through their talented sons.
Refreshingly, Todd Sr., who played six NFL seasons as an offensive lineman, and his wife Jana are an exception to the rule among pushy parents.
They didn’t interfere with the college commitment process for Todd Jr., who committed to Nebraska in the Class of 2011; with their second son, Andrus, who picked Stanford in the Class of 2012; and now with their third college-bound son, Cassius, who signed last week with Michigan State in the Class of 2015.
“It’s their decision,” Todd Sr. explained. “We don’t tell them where to go or where not to go. It’s something my wife and I believe in. We’re there for them to help, but they have to make the choice.”
Cassius Peat, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound Rivals 3-star ranked outside linebacker from Tempe (Az.) Corona del Sol, was one of the nation’s surprise last-minute recruiting announcements on national letter-of-intent day last week. He changed his earlier soft verbal commit to UCLA and signed with the Spartans.
Cassius had the final word, but he had guidelines his parents provided to follow.
“The first thing is everything is about education with us,” Todd Sr. said. “Sports are not a possibility if they don’t excel in the classroom. When they’re sophomores and juniors and start to get recruiting interest, we think they should visit a place more than once so they can make a good decision. We do everything in our power to make sure they see a place more than once. We want them to find the right fit.”
That belief dates back to Todd Sr.’s own recruiting experience when he played high school football in Champaign, Ill. He had interest from the Big Ten’s Illinois, but he chose Northern Illinois for the head coach, Bill Mallory.
“I am moved by the coaches I’ve had; I know the importance of finding a coach that’s about more than just football,” Todd Sr. said. “I’ve been uniquely coached by the Bill Mallorys, the Jerry Pettibones, the Gene Stallings and the Art Shells of football. I even had Lee Corso briefly at Northern Illinois. It’s more than just about football; it’s about life and family. When you’re coached by these types of men, it effects your life, your morals and your values.”
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio got a foot in the door with Cassius Peat through two past relationships, Spartans defensive line coach Ron Burton and former Michigan State offensive coordinator Dan Roushar, who is now with the New Orleans Saints. Burton played in the NFL with Todd Sr. with both the Arizona Cardinals and the then-Los Angeles Raiders. Roushar was Northern Illinois' quarterback when Todd Sr. played for the Huskies.
“Ron and I have had a close relationship as teammates and after our playing days,” Todd Sr. said. “Ron had a great work ethic as a player. Danny was our quarterback at Northern Illinois. I had a conversation with him, and he swore about the character of Coach Dantonio not only as a football coach but as a person. I think Cassius made a switch at the end because he connected with coach Burton. That made a difference. He also had a strong belief that Coach Dantonio will be there long term. That was a strong selling point for him.”
Dantonio has stated in the past, particularly when Texas made overtures in December 2013 after the Spartans won the Big Ten title, that Michigan State is his last job and he considers it a "destination" school.
“Coaches are important,” Todd Sr. “My high school coach was one of most influential persons in my life. I talked to him about everything; I talked to him before I asked my wife to marry me. They have a great influence on our young men; they spend a lot of time with them.”
His oldest son Todd Jr. left Nebraska after a back injury to return home to play at Eastern Arizona Junior College and is now playing at Texas A&M-Commerce. His next son Andrus Peat was an All-American offensive tackle at Stanford as a junior last season. He declared for the NFL Draft and is projected as a top 10 pick.
“(Stanford) Coach (David) Shaw has had an influence on him, even on the choice to leave early from school,” Todd Sr. said. “I told him jokingly before Andrus made his decision, ‘if you ask him to stay, he will.’ That’s the truth. That shows you the impact Coach Shaw had on Andrus.”
Although the Peats are three-for-three with their children earning college scholarships, they are far from done. Their daughter Leilani is a sophomore basketball and tennis player at Corona del Sol who has received basketball recruiting letters. In all, they have seven children with another younger daughter and two younger sons.
Todd Sr. and Jana have experienced enough through college recruiting and high school sports to write a book. That knowledge includes Todd Sr.’s own playing experiences, including the physical toll of football. All three older boys were basketball players first and that's by design. Cassius is a fourth-year varsity basketball player at Corona del Sol as the Aztecs seek a fourth straight state title in the Arizona large-school division.
“The boys don’t play football until they get to high school,” Todd Sr. said. “Being a retired football player and what I’ve been through, we feel the cream rises to the top. We think starting them early in basketball equates well with football.”
Once basketball seasons wraps up, Cassius will begin preparing for college football at Michigan State.
“I’ve said this to anybody who will listen: It’s one thing to motivate people, but it’s another to inspire,” Todd Sr. said. “Bill Mallory was the greatest inspirer I’ve ever been around. He could inspire anyone to do anything. I try to inspire my children to be the best they can be.”