Heisman hunt is on for Sooner

The selling of Adrian Peterson officially got under way last weekend in Phoenix. The campaign's success won't be determined until next December in New York.

The goal in this sales pitch is the 2006 Heisman Trophy. To get Heisman voters to buy the idea that Peterson is the best candidate to win college football's most coveted award.

This year's Heisman race isn't a new experience for Oklahoma's All-American running back. Peterson finished second to USC quarterback Matt Leinart in the 2004 vote, the best-ever finish by a freshman.

But an injury-plagued 2005 season dashed Peterson's hopes to become the first sophomore winner. He wasn't invited to make a return trip to New York last December for the Heisman announcement after he finished out of the top 10.

While the Heisman is an individual honor, a university reaps tremendous benefits when it produces a winner. That's why some universities spend up to six figures to push the candidacy of their player.

OU obviously doesn't have a recognition problem with Peterson. He made a name for himself with the sensational freshman debut and his courageous attempt to play through pain most of last season.

Nonetheless, OU officials were delighted when Peterson was selected to Playboy Magazine's All-American team. The magazine has detractors because of its adult content, but its highly respected preseason All-American team means a school doesn't have to pay a cent for an incredible amount of national attention.

But OU may have gained a lot more than free publicity when Peterson made the trip to Phoenix last weekend for the Playboy's photo shoot, which will appear in the August issue.

The Playboy All-American team is selected by Gil Brandt, who was vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys for 29 years. The Playboy gig is just one of many jobs for the well-known Brandt, who also writes for NFL.com.

When the 26 All-American selections and Penn State's Joe Paterno, Playboy's Coach of the Year, arrived at the Tapatio Cliffs Resort last Friday, Brandt sought out Peterson.

"I had about a 30-minute talk with Adrian about the birds and the bees," Brandt said in a telephone interview.

Wait a minute all you Playboy Magazine critics. The birds and bees Brandt had in mind when he cornered Peterson for their private chat were the temptations OU's talented junior will face the next few months.

"They were the dos and don'ts," Brandt said.

It included things like don't allow yourself to accept offers from scumbag agents, which would cost you your eligibility. And don't become another Reggie Bush, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner from USC who is embroiled in controversy over his family allegedly accepting gifts from agents.

Brandt said the Bush situation was one reason he wanted to discuss the facts of football life with Peterson. The other was the recent news that Peterson was cleared by OU after it investigated his purchase of a used Lexus from a Norman auto dealer, which he returned after driving it free for several weeks.

"I told Adrian, 'Look, you are in a fishbowl. And you have to stay away from anybody that has anything free for you,' " Brandt said. "I told him from this talk on that I didn't want to hear anything had gone wrong. Just play football."

That was one of Brandt's "dos" that OU fans will love: Do stay in school. Brandt encouraged Peterson to play football for the Sooners as long as he can. The Texas native is expected to be one of the top two or three picks if he enters the NFL draft after his junior season.

Brandt is so dedicated to persuading underclassmen to play their senior seasons that he doesn't talk in glowing terms about why he selected them to the Playboy team. "Here's my problem," Brandt said. "I don't want to say too many blow-up things about them because I want them to stay in school.

"Sometimes a guy listens, and 10 minutes later he forgets. But I think Adrian listened. He's a very quiet and impressive guy."

Peterson's soft-spoken nature can actually work against him in the Heisman race. While he prefers to do his talking on the field, many of the more than 900 voters are often swayed by guys who can talk as good a game as they play.

For example, Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn is expected to be one of Peterson's chief Heisman rivals. Quinn is the top returning vote-getter after finishing fourth last season.

Quinn's extroverted, and Notre Dame plans to capitalize on it.

Oklahoma SID Kenny Mossman, who played a key behind-the-scenes role in quarterback Jason White becoming the Sooners' fourth Heisman winner in 2003, is already plotting ways to promote Peterson.

OU coach Bob Stoops believes the award should be won on the field instead of via media blitz. So Mossman takes the soft-sell approach, sending postcards to the media updating Peterson's accomplishments, and perhaps a DVD on some of Peterson's spectacular runs.

"I don't think as long as Bob (Stoops) is here that he's ever going to want much in the way of neon signs and giant billboards," Mossman said. "The media will be aware that we are doing something, but I'm not sure there will be a lot of public fanfare."

That's why the Playboy selection is a key starting point in the Heisman sales pitch. Peterson will be featured in several regional magazines, but none with the clout of Playboy and Brandt.

"Adrian's a great player and already one of the leading Heisman candidates," Brandt said. "But he's also a model citizen.

"That's why I also gave him the "Quiet Man and Nice Guy Award."

Hey, perhaps there's a Heisman campaign slogan in there somewhere that might sell: "Adrian Peterson: He speaks softly, but carries an entire team."