San Antonio–After the 2006 soccer season, St. Mary’s head coach Que Willis had a singular focus for his off-season recruiting – offense. The Rattlers totaled just 16 goals in 16 games last season, leading to a 6-8-2 record.
But big-time scorers don’t just grow on trees, nor are they usually overlooked by Division I programs. However, one did slip through the cracks and landed in San Antonio with the Rattlers this season, making an impact that hasn’t been seen in nearly a decade at the school.
Last spring Willis received a call from his brother Quin Willis, who lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“He told me that if you’re looking for a target player, this is the one you want,” Que Willis recalled.
Willis’ brother was referring to David Peterson, a senior at Lake Country Christian School and a player for the DFW Tornadoes, coached by Paul Robinson. Peterson was a two-time all-state honoree for the school and earned Offensive Player of the Year honors his last two years. As a senior he scored 14 goals, making him just the kind of player that Willis needed for an offense that had struggled.
While Willis had never seen Peterson play in person prior to the freshman’s arrival on campus, the tape he saw on Peterson and the recommendations of his brother were enough to offer the 6’3″ forward a scholarship.
He arrived at St. Mary’s without a lot of fanfare and joined a team that was picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the Heartland Conference standings. It didn’t take long for Peterson to make his presence known. In his first game as a Rattler he came off the bench against 12th-ranked Midwestern State University. With the Rattlers down 2-1 in the second half he stole the ball and dribbled in one-on-one against the Mustang goalkeeper. When the keeper came out, he touched the ball past him toward an open goal. However, an MSU defender raced back and made a sliding kick-save as the ball reached the goal line, preventing a goal. The Rattlers lost that game, but Peterson’s performance showed the promise that brought him to San Antonio.
In the Rattlers next game, against the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, he broke through, scoring his first collegiate goal in a 2-1 win. When the Rattlers returned home the following weekend, Peterson had his break-out game against the University of Texas of the Permian Basin.
“In the first five minutes of the game (Kris) Sumter and I were all over the field,” Peterson recalled. “All the game I used my body well and things really started to come together; things that they had told me in practice. I felt that I was finally starting to understand how to play the collegiate game.”
Peterson scored a goal early to give the Rattlers a tough 1-0 win. Two days later he had his first multiple-goal game, tallying twice in a 4-1 win over Newman University. For his play, he earned Heartland Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors in his second week as a collegiate player. His scoring streak continued in the Rattlers 4-2 win over Eastern New Mexico a week later.
Following that incredible homestand, Peterson and the Rattlers hit their first stretch of adversity on a four-game road trip. Playing against three regionally ranked teams, the Rattlers scored just one goal in four games and Peterson was shut out. However, a return home reinvigorated the Rattlers.
Facing Incarnate Word, who was ranked as high as the second in the nation earlier in the season, the Rattlers had a strong challenge in front of them. UIW had won 2-0 two weeks before, but this was a new day for the Rattlers, who held the Cardinals scoreless for 90 minutes. In the closing moments of the game, Peterson showed why he is the favorite for Heartland Conference Freshman of the Year, scoring the game-winning goal in a 1-0 upset win. Two days later he scored a pair of goals against St. Thomas to give the Rattlers a 4-1 win.
Peterson has scored eight goals in 12 games, including three game-winning goals. Even more impressive is the fact that he scored the eight goals on a total of just 22 shots. Peterson didn’t even become a starter for the Rattlers until midseason, despite his scoring prowess. There’s no doubt he’s a starter now.
“I expected him to do well, but probably not this quick,” Willis said of Peterson’s rapid development. “He’s said a lot in finishing the shots he has taken. We weren’t able to do that last year.”
Peterson attributes a lot of his success this season to a player that Peterson is competing with for playing time: senior Kris Sumter.
“I really have to give a lot of the credit to Sumter,” Peterson said. “He’s really given me an understanding of the work ethic it takes to succeed. We’ve learned how to play off each other.”
While Peterson has made it look relatively easy this season, that is not the way he looks at it.
“The adjustment to college play is a gigantic step, physically,” Peterson said. “Also mentally you have to push yourself past the place your body wants to quit.”
It was 11 years ago that a younger Que Willis walked onto the St. Mary’s University campus, coming from the Dallas area, and turned into the greatest offensive player the school had ever seen. Willis finished his career as the leading goal-scoring in school history and a two-time All-American. Now, as the coach, Willis is hoping Peterson is the player who makes a similar impact on the program for the next three years.