BY BEN WAIT
STARKVILLE — Jamal Peters was playing safety three weeks ago.
The sophomore was getting used to new Mississippi State football safeties coach Maurice Linguist and trying to put himself in a position to earn more playing time. But the Bulldogs were hit with two crucial injuries at the cornerback position.
With one week left in training camp, MSU football coach Dan Mullen announced senior Tolando Cleveland was out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and senior Cedric Jiles was going to be out until midseason with a broken right arm. Both were projected to be starters.
So Mullen and his defensive coaching staff decided to move Peters to cornerback. He didn’t play defense in a week one loss to South Alabama, but made his presence known with an interception in a 27-14 win over South Carolina Saturday night at Davis Wade Stadium.
“It wasn’t really that tough,” Peters said. “Safety, you’re like a quarterback. Then with cornerback, it’s just athleticism, just being smart and learning what the receiver is doing. It really wasn’t that hard a transition for me, I’m an athlete.”
Peters will continue to practice at cornerback and said he would like to make the move permanent. Peters and MSU (1-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) play at No. 20 LSU (1-1, 0-0) 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2).
Peters said he wasn’t ready to play at cornerback in week one. But after getting another week of practice at the position, he came off the bench. The Bulldogs didn’t force any turnovers last week, but Peters made sure that didn’t happen in week two.
South Carolina quarterback Perry Orth heaved up a long pass down the sideline. Peters was running alongside wide receiver Bryan Edwards. Peters and Edwards leaped simultaneously but the ball was under-thrown and Peters came away with the interception.
“I didn’t know the quarterback was going to throw,” Peters said. “I glanced at the quarterback and I saw the ball in the air. I thought the ball was overthrown, but when I saw it, I had a chance to go make a play and I did.”
The 6-foot-2, 217-pound Bassfield native didn’t record an interception as a freshman.
Peters didn’t make any tackles in his debut at cornerback, but the interception is what stuck out in Mullen’s mind.
“He did well,” Mullen said. “It’s still a work in progress in learning some things. With our depth at that position, it’s kind of where we’re at right now. He’s a guy that we kind of threw into that role and he came out and made a huge play for us on that interception. I want to see him to continue to develop.”
Peters didn’t play on the first defensive series, but he played on the second defensive series. The Gamecocks picked up a first down, but were forced to punt with Peters out there.
Peters, who played on special teams last week, was kind of nervous when he lined up against the wide receiver for the first time.
“My heart was beating fast,” Peters said. “I didn’t want to mess up, I wanted to be perfect. I know you’re not going to be perfect at everything you do. After the first snap, I was good. I felt like I was playing high school football again.”
Peters played wide receiver and safety at Bassfield High School. When he signed with MSU, he knew he was going to be playing defense permanently. But this past spring Peters practiced at wide receiver. The Bulldogs were lacking depth due to injuries to Fred Ross and Donald Gray.
He made the transition back to safety at the beginning of fall camp.
Peters recalls talking with cornerbacks coach Terrell Buckley throughout the week. Buckley asked Peters if he was ready and Peters didn’t hesitate to say he was.
“It was very rewarding,” Peters said. “I stay focused the whole week trying to learn the keys and how to play the game of football.”
The transition will only get easier for Peters after getting game reps at cornerback.
“I’m very comfortable. After the interception, I got even more comfortable. I’m just looking froward to making more plays,” Peters said.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.