Cornerback Patrick Peterson has been exactly what the Cardinals hoped he would be when they took him with the fifth pick in the 2011 draft.
Maybe it sprouted from the days when Patrick Peterson was battling older, bigger kids on the playing fields of his youth, nevertheless always believing he would win.
Maybe it developed because Peterson was the oldest of five siblings, the one his brother and sisters looked up to as they all were growing up.
Maybe it was just innate, this old soul living within Peterson.
At age 23, the Cardinals' Pro Bowl cornerback has already established himself as a star football player. He sees himself as more than that. He's a man with a plan and a long-term vision for his life. He came into the NFL at 21 understanding he could be a potential face of a franchise. He was married at age 22. With the vast majority of his football career still to go, he already has a company up and running for non-football business, referring to his own ideas he constantly jots down.
"It's kind of hard to explain," said Cardinals linebacker Kevin Minter, who also played with Peterson in college at LSU. "Dude is quiet,
always about business. You can't do nothing but respect it, but damn, you want to chill once in a while. And when he chills out he's on the golf course, so he's like a 50-year-old dude."
Peterson chuckles at any old soul reference, which is a term those around Peterson bring up frequently. Even his mother has told him such, and Peterson has been told he acts like his grandfather in certain situations.
From the time he walked in and hung around long-time veteran Adrian Wilson, to the time he took rookie Michael Floyd aside to give him tips – when Peterson is actually younger than Floyd – Peterson has carried himself well beyond whatever his birth certificate acknowledges.
"He was mature beyond his years, and he 'got it,' " said Denise White, CEO of EAG Sports Management, which has worked with Peterson for the last year. "He understood this was a business. He conducted himself the right way on and off the field, giving more than he is getting, even off the field. Doing some things for free, doesn't always have to be paid. He "gets" it. And very few guys are like that these days, wise beyond their years."
Avery Peterson is a freshman wide receiver at LSU. He's also Patrick Peterson's little brother. A higher bar cannot be set, but Patrick has given Avery simple advice.
"There are things I wish I could have done better in school," Peterson said. "But you don't set your goals to be the next Patrick Peterson. Deion Sanders, I look up to Deion each and every way possible, but I want to be better than Deion Sanders. Is that going to happen? I don't know. But my expectations are that high. I told my brother to have the same expectations. Don't go there to be Patrick Peterson's little brother. Be better than me."
Peterson is the ultimate big brother. Patrick Peterson Sr. said his other children – Patrick Jr. also has three sisters aged 18, 16 and 6 – all like the idea they can turn to their older brother for advice. Peterson relishes such times.
That family structure has been important. His parents, who had Patrick young, often leaned on the rest of the family when Patrick was a child. While his parents worked, the grandparents were the babysitters. Peterson had many role models to set him on the right path.
"We wanted to train him to be responsible and do things the right way," Peterson Sr. said. "He always had the listening part down pat. He made our job as parents easy."
It's hard to expect anything less of a guy who admits he already feels, mentally, that he has been in the NFL 10 years. When he got married to wife Antonique last year, he got good-natured grief from teammates wondering why such a young guy in his situation wouldn't play the field longer. Peterson shrugged it off.
Sanders sported a Peterson jersey on camera when he was in town for the Thursday Night Football game between the Cardinals and Seahawks. Sanders didn't even meet Peterson until Peterson was already in the NFL. Peterson already idolized Deion. Peterson quickly earned respect back.
Like Sanders, Peterson sees the value in creating a life that goes beyond the football field. It doesn't necessarily have to be as flashy as what Sanders did during his playing days, but Peterson wants to carve his own niche.
"Especially in African-American communities, there isn't a lot to look up to," Sanders said. "Guys know real. They know genuine. You keep climbing up this ladder, you will run into these obstacles. The thing about this kid, man, he listens. A lot of kids don't listen. They think they have it all figured out."
Peterson knows he has things to learn, and White said one of Peterson's strengths is that he will surround himself with the
right people and ask their advice. Peterson said he is constantly trying to meet "the right people" so business avenues can open up and so they can help "push my ideas to the world."
Peterson has started "P2 Nation," a company that will in part market clothing. One of Peterson's ideas now is a line of dress ties called 21 Threads. While he gets help putting his plans in motion, the plans are all his.
At home, two or three notebooks lie around the house. Peterson often brainstorms and writes the ideas in the notebooks, none of which have to do with football directly.
"My mind, it wonders," Peterson said. "It scares me sometimes. I want to be able to share my ideas with companies that can help me branch out. But I want it to come from me."
When you talk about linchpin players around whom a franchise wants to build – players whose value goes beyond simply great football accomplishments – Peterson is the definition.
"When you talk to Patrick and meet with him for the first time, and he has these big hands and a strong handshake and looks you in the eye when he talks to you and he is very articulate, you can tell it started with his upbringing," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. "You can tell he was raised the right way. You can tell he has respect for coaches and people. You can't say that about all prospects.
"He knows he belongs here. There wasn't an immature stage he had to fight through. He was a pro the minute he walked through the door."
Peterson doesn't walk around pronouncing himself the best cornerback in the NFL. But if he is asked, he doesn't shy away from the subject. Sometimes, Peterson is accused of arrogance in that regard, but when you listen to him, it sounds less as boasting and more as simple fact.
"I don't play this position to be second," Peterson said. "I play to be the best in the game. That's not being arrogant. That's not being cocky. I feel like I have done enough things in my young career to be considered the best. Am I the best to some people? Maybe not. But in my eyes I feel like I am the best cornerback in the league."
That's been Peterson's goal since he arrived in the lockout-ravaged offseason of 2011. It isn't to say Peterson doesn't constantly work at improvement. He sees flaws and drives to eradicate them. He sees teams mostly going at him with hitches and short routes, thinking they cannot beat him deep, and he has adjusted his game.
The metrics bear out his improvement. According to the website profootballfocus.com, Peterson has allowed just 36 completions on 73 passes thrown his direction, less than 50 percent. The last three games, Peterson has allowed just three catches and the Rams didn't even attempt to throw his way Sunday.
Often, the talk of the top young cornerback in the league comes down to Peterson and Seattle's Richard Sherman. Neither one is a bad choice, but even Sherman allows that Peterson has the edge in athleticism.
"I have to play straight technical football, and I think he gets to play a little looser because he can recover in a flash and get back into play," Sherman said. "I think that's what makes him an elite corner."
Peterson has other attributes. There hasn't been a cornerback in history that doesn't talk about having a short memory, but Peterson legitimately does. Director of media relations Chris Melvin always makes sure to remind Peterson daily of his media obligations because a warning even the day before will be quickly forgotten.
"You know how your mom says, 'Are you listening to me? Is it going through one ear and out the other?' That's exactly what it does," Peterson said. "I have a very, very short memory in football and in real life."
That extends to his play on punt returns and offense, roles that have produced mixed results for Peterson of late. That doesn't matter to Peterson, who always insists production is right around the corner.
"Every time he touches the ball he believes he can change the complexion of our football team's fortune," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "I love that swagger about him."
The draft class of 2011 – which includes Peterson -- is eligible for contract extensions after the season. Whether that means something immediately for Peterson remains to be seen, although the Cardinals figure to address it sooner rather than later.
The Cardinals' philosophy is to get long-term deals with core players. There isn't anyone more at the core of the team right now than Peterson. Keim said for whatever accolades Peterson has already piled up, he still thinks on a national level Peterson is underappreciated.
"He is still just scratching the surface of the player he can become," Keim said. "Which is scary."
If his football play is the motor that runs the Peterson machine, the big smile and friendly manner off the field give it the glossy exterior. The camera loves him. He's a spokesman everyone would want to have.
As he builds up a portfolio – on and off the field – that people twice his age would envy, Peterson said one of his best attributes is just to sit back and observe. That's how his grandfather did it. He can understand why some might wonder if his persona is a façade, but he emphasizes it isn't.
"This is me," Peterson said. "This is me, 24/7. I'm an easy-going guy. Laid back. I just love being around people. I like to meet genuine, good people. Because that's how I am."
An old soul in a freakishly talented young body. It's a package that can pay in a lot of ways.
"I never answer the phone and think, 'I wonder what Patrick I'm going to get today' " White said. "I know what Patrick I'm going to get. I can't say that about everyone we work with.
"Patrick is one of those guys who comes along every 20 years."