When Nathaniel Peat made the decision to enter the transfer portal last month, his first recruiting call didn’t come from a college coach. Instead, it was Missouri safety Martez Manuel.
It wasn’t unusual for Peat to hear from Manuel. The two both grew up in Columbia and played high school football together at Rock Bridge. Manuel said he knew that Peat was considering leaving Stanford after spending his first three college seasons there.
But this phone conversation wasn’t just Manuel checking up on his friend. He put the full-court press on Peat, trying to convince him to return to his hometown for his final two seasons of eligibility.
“Once I heard that he was about to make that decision, I turned into (former director of recruiting) Jake Breske,” Manuel said Monday. “I went full recruitment mode and did everything I could.”
The Tiger coaching staff wasn’t far behind Manuel. Less than 30 minutes after Peat tweeted that he had entered the transfer portal, he tweeted that Missouri had offered him a scholarship. Speaking to reporters Monday for the first time since enrolling at Missouri, he said it meant a lot that the hometown school was his first offer, as it had been when he was a high school prospect, as well.
But it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that he would pick the Tigers. Manuel said “it took a little while” and “he had to do some persuading” to convince Peat to join him at Missouri. Ultimately, the allure of returning home won out.
“I was looking at every opportunity,” Peat said. “I knew you can’t come into a decision head first. So I was looking at all of them, but in the back of the head I knew that Mizzou was home, and so it was kind of just a matter of figuring that out.”
Peat isn’t just back at Missouri for a nostalgia tour, though. He acknowledged that leaving Stanford before he completed his degree represented a sacrifice. He made it because he wanted to play a larger role. And with Tyler Badie And his 26.8 touches per game gone to the NFL, there’s plenty of playing time available in the Tiger backfield.
Peat made a point to emphasize that he’ll have to work his way up the depth chart, but upon arriving to campus, he immediately became Missouri’s most experienced tailback. Among the other four scholarship tailbacks on the roster — Elijah Young, BJ Harris, Michael Cox and Taj Butts — none has totaled 50 career carries. Only Young has more than 25.
Peat, on the other hand, showed a glimpse of what he can bring while working as a change-of-pace back at Stanford. Last season, he turned 79 carries into 404 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught 11 passes for 63 yards.
Peat said he can “do it all,” and he’s eager to prove that now that he’s out of the shadow of Stanford starter Austin Jones. But his calling card has always been his speed. Peat has broken free for two runs of more than 70 yards in his college career. He also led the Pac-12 in kickoff return yards last season after ranking second in 2020.
If Peat’s explosiveness can translate to the SEC, it would help Missouri replace Badie, who led the nation in runs of 40 or more yards last season. Manuel doesn’t think that will be a problem. He raved about Peat’s speed.
“I’ve probably seen him take a football, get the handoff in the end zone and take a football 99 yards at least 10 times in high school,” Manuel said. “At least. And that’s no exaggeration. … He’s that light in the backfield that can get the ball and go, from anywhere on the field.”
In addition to competing for the running back spot, Peat said he has already talked to the Missouri coaches about contributing on special teams, whether that’s as a kickoff return man or elsewhere.
As for the tailback position, Eli Drinkwitz reporters told on Feb. 2 that the competition for the starting spot will be wide open.
“Trying to create competition,” he said. “Last year we weren’t sure. We knew Tyler was a great player, but we didn’t know how good of a player he was or how elite of a player he was. And so, I think it’s the same thing here. We wanted to add enough ingredients into the mix and see, as they say, the cream rise to the top.”
Peat is fine with that approach. He left Stanford, he said, to “bet on himself.” He’s wagering that the competition that will begin Friday when Missouri kicks off spring practices will ultimately prove what he can do as a lead back.
“I’m just here to compete,” Peat said. “I know we have a lot of great backs here right now with Elijah Young and Michael Cox. I already watched everything and I know that they’re all great backs. And so I’m really just here to compete, and wherever I fit into the offense I’m ready to play and compete.”