When Christian Peterson arrived at Carmel High School last year, he’d never played cornerback.
The recent IU commit spent the first two years of his high school career playing wide receiver at Pike High School, and he transferred to Carmel ahead of his junior year. The Greyhounds had a need at cornerback, with multiple Division I-quality receivers already on the roster. Head coach John Hebert saw Peterson as a versatile athlete, and proposed moving him to corner.
Peterson gave it a try, and Hebert quickly realized it was a good move. Peterson immediately stood out at cornerback, both in the weight room and on the practice field. And he only got better.
“He looked that way right away. He’s like a savant. Like those people that sit down at the piano, they’ve never played before, and they’re playing Mozart,” Hebert said. “He has become much more refined, just with his growth and maturation as a young man. He’s significantly better than when he got here. But when he got here, his raw ability was off the charts, and he knows how to apply it.”
Peterson turned that ability into a strong season at Carmel. He tied for the team lead with three interceptions, recorded four pass deflections, and blocked a field goal.
It took some mental adjustment for Peterson after switching positions, but that period didn’t last long. He rapidly improved and realized his potential.
During Carmel’s midseason game against North Central, Peterson lined up against Minnesota incoming freshman TJ McWilliams. And Peterson made some big plays that night, including an interception that Hebert said drew disbelieving reactions from the crowd.
“After that game, I was like, ‘I know if I can do this against that caliber of player, I can really do this at the next level,” Peterson said.
Part of what helped Peterson adapt to the new position was watching film of some top NFL cornerbacks. He specifically likes to watch Sauce Gardner, Jaycee Horn, Tariq Woolen, and Patrick Surtain II. Peterson sees things in all of their games that he tries to implement into his own.
Switching positions meant learning to watch the game differently, and watching some of the NFL’s best helped him do that.
“You just watch things on YouTube, like press technique and things like that,” Peterson said. “After that, I was pretty much just watching guys like that, seeing the things that they do, seeing how they move, and stuff like that.”
Indiana was the only power five school to offer Peterson a scholarship. Most of his offers came from the MAC — over half the conference offered Peterson scholarships.
Peterson came to Bloomington for a camp in early June, and felt he could earn an offer if he performed well there. He did just that.
He liked what he saw of IU’s facilities at that camp. But the biggest thing that set the Hoosiers apart for Peterson was the coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Matt Guerrieri visited Peterson at school, and that stuck out. And he formed connections with graduate assistant Thomas Allen, cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby, and tight ends coach Kevin Wright, who coached at Carmel from 2010 to 2014.
And, Peterson said, head coach Tom Allen’s strong personal interest in him resonated.
“He liked my ability to play a lot of positions — like on film, I’m playing a lot of wildcat, playing corner, I’m returning. He liked seeing me with the ball in my hands. He could see I’m a competitor,” Peterson said. “And a lot of visions he has for me at IU, I like for myself. So it was a good fit.”
Hebert said the IU staff mentioned playing Peterson at nickel, which would be another adjustment. But Hebert thinks Peterson would succeed at any position in the secondary as he continues to build strength.
The biggest thing Hebert said the Hoosiers are getting in Peterson is a consistent competitor who would continually push himself past his limits if nobody stopped him. Carmel uses GPS trackers during practice for its top players to get data on how much they’re doing, and Hebert said that data often suggests pulling Peterson back to prevent injuries. But Peterson doesn’t let the coaches do that without debating, wanting to work as hard as possible for as long as possible. Hebert loves that drive.
And, Hebert added, IU is getting a player who’s ready for big moments.
“He just has no fear, no hesitation. He’s not full of himself, but he’s extremely confident in his abilities. I don’t see any sign of apprehension or being worried about measuring up to expectations,” Hebert said. “He competes with a free mind, whether there are 10,000 people there or if it’s just practice. That’s when I think you know you have a really special kind of guy that’s right where he should be, which is playing football, playing the position he’s playing. He’s just a natural.”
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