Video: A Good Catch — Eric Peterman closed his Wildcat football career with more than 2,000 receiving yards, good for fourth all-time at Northwestern, and signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Bears in the spring. See more videos from Northwestern magazine.
For the past four years Eric Peterman donned the No. 10 jersey and gave Wildcat fans something to cheer about at Ryan Field on Saturday afternoons. If Peterman gets his way, Chicago Bears fans might soon be cheering him on at Soldier Field on Sundays.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound wide receiver spent the first few months of 2009 working out in front of NFL scouts.
"They were really impressed," says Peterman, who ran a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash and displayed a 31-inch vertical jump when Northwestern hosted its annual Pro Day for NFL scouts. "I think they were expecting me to run slower and not jump as high."
The Springfield, Ill., native got a lot of attention from the Chicago Bears. And the Bears liked what they saw. Peterman signed a free agent deal with the local team in late April. He'll reunite with former Wildcats Brett Basanez (C05, GC06), a quarterback, and Nick Roach (WCAS07), a linebacker. Still, that doesn't mean he'll be suiting up on Sundays — yet.
"There are a lot of cuts I have to make, so it's definitely still a long process," Peterman says. "I have to keep my eye on the prize."
Peterman's football résumé speaks for itself. He was voted MVP of the team his junior year and took over as a team captain for the 2008 season, which culminated with a trip to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. Despite the 30-23 overtime Alamo Bowl loss to Missouri, Peterman capped off his career with seven catches for 83 yards, including Northwestern's first touchdown of the game on a 35-yard catch and run.
Peterman came to Northwestern as a highly rated high school quarterback, but when it became clear that the team needed his help at wide receiver, he made the switch. He ended his senior season with 59 catches for team highs of 737 yards and six receiving touchdowns, and Peterman closed his career ranked fourth on Northwestern's career list with 2,011 receiving yards.
But what teammates, coaches and classmates most respect is how Peterman conducts himself off the field. "If I could clone Eric Peterman, I would in a heartbeat. This world would be a better place if more people had the determination, moral compass, motivation to succeed, strength of character and [commitment] to bettering their community as Eric personifies and displays on a daily basis," Betsi Burns, Northwestern's assistant athletic director for academic services and student development, wrote in Peterman's letter of recommendation for the Allstate American Football Coaches Association's Good Works team.
From the very beginning, Peterman knew he wanted to be more than a football player. And when he wasn't on the field, watching tapes or working out, Peterman was busy wrapping up an industrial engineering degree with an economics minor.
A three-time academic all-Big Ten selection, Peterman says graduating with that degree (and a 3-plus grade-point average) while also being one of Northwestern's top football players makes him incredibly proud.
In between time on the field and in the classroom, Peterman has managed to give back through service projects. He served on the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science advisory board, volunteered for Dance Marathon and coordinated activities for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. His dedication to community earned him the Awards and Recognition Association's Sportsmanship Award, which honors a Division I college football player who exemplifies sportsmanship both on and off the field.
"My experience here at Northwestern was about the people more than about the football," he says. "Coaches here look at what kind of person you are before they look at the football talent."
Peterman hopes that same combination of athletic talent and outstanding character leads him to a long NFL career.
But if the NFL doesn't pan out, Peterman already has plan B. He wants to put his engineering degree to use in the airline industry. Peterman says he'll help airlines maximize revenue by working on logistical issues such as route mapping, planning the optimal number of flights an airline operates per day.
Either way, Peterman says he just wants to continue making a difference.