For Aaron Peck, football came to a standstill two weeks into Fresno State’s 2015 fall camp. He landed poorly after leaping to snare a high throw on the practice field. There was surgery to repair a left foot injury, then that was it, the season gone.
Peck, though, didn’t stop.
He worked through the many emotions that came with so much at stake a year ago – Peck was entering his senior season in the best shape of his life, the top returning receiver on a team that lacked experienced playmakers outside.
Peck graduated with a degree in business administration-sports marketing, had an internship in the Bulldogs’ marketing department and did community service with other student-athletes. He also was chosen to be the face of a university-wide branding campaign to be launched Monday that highlights the university, the community and the relationship between the two.
“Aaron is really a cool dude,” said Paul Ladwig, senior associate athletic director for external relations. “He is truly the quintessential student-athlete. He overcame adversity when it comes to an injury. He absolutely, positively got it done in the classroom. He has been stellar in the community.”
Peck will appear in print, TV and radio spots that he said are intended to fuse a connection: Community support and ticket sales fund scholarships, scholarships fuel student-athletes, and 80 percent of Fresno State graduates go on to build lives in the Valley.
“There’s an academic side, as well,” Peck said. “We want to showcase that at Fresno State the graduates stay in the Valley, are very successful in the Valley and wherever else they go.”
The campaign slogan is: “Just the Ticket to Build Our Community.”
And, now, days from a second chance at a senior season after taking a redshirt year because of the injury, the Bulldogs know that if Peck can catch up on the football side of those parallel tracks for a student-athlete, they will have something equally important to their chances of rebounding from a 3-9 season.
It has been a long recovery, a long process. But the time is here, the time is now.
Fresno State senior wide receiver Aaron Peck on his return to action after sitting out 2015 with a foot injury
Peck again is in excellent shape, the foot no longer a problem. At 6-foot-3, he’s a big target with good hands, and he still has the athleticism that stood out on his first day of fall camp five years ago.
Despite sitting out last season, Peck again is the leading returning receiver with 47 career catches, and thanks to better depth and competition at quarterback, Fresno State’s passing game has much more promise than it did a year ago.
“I’m excited,” Peck said this week, ahead of the start of fall practice Thursday. “I worked my way back into shape. It has been a long recovery, a long process. But the time is here, the time is now.”
Peck has made memorable blocks and acrobatic catches, but those highlights just hint at what could be there when he becomes more of a presence in the offense.
As a true freshman and sophomore, he played in an offense that featured Davante Adams, who caught 102 passes for 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2012 and 131 for 1,719 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2013 and was drafted in the second round by the Green Bay Packers.
In 2014, junior Josh Harper was the Bulldogs’ primary target and led the team with 90 receptions for 1,097 yards and seven touchdowns.
Peck’s breakout season is still there to be had. A year older, he may be in the perfect spot to make it happen.
We always saw potential in him that I don’t know that he necessarily saw in himself early on.
Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter on Aaron Peck’s possible impact on the passing game
“When we first brought him in, he was young as a football player and young age-wise,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We always saw potential in him that I don’t know that he necessarily saw in himself early on. But sometimes things happen for a reason. He gets hurt, and I think the whole maturity thing may have caught up to him to where he can have a breakout year right now.
“When you have that extra year now to get stronger physically and understand the game better and maybe appreciate the game – when it’s removed from you, you don’t appreciate anything as much as when you don’t have it anymore – I’m hoping that’s the motivation that drives him to have that special season that I think he’s capable of.”
Peck rejoins a receiving corps that has some experience to go with talent to capitalize on what figures to be better quarterback play.
Third-year sophomores Jamire Jordan inside and KeeSean Johnson made 46 and 37 receptions in their debut seasons a year ago. Senior Da’Mari Scott has been moved inside, where he will match up against linebackers and safeties.
Junior Delvon Hardaway will be a year healthier coming back from a knee injury.
There are some tough covers in that group, which creates matchup opportunities.
“I’m glad to be back, and I’ve gotten stronger since last year,” Peck said. “This is definitely the time to put all of my years of experience together and bring everything that I have to the table and help this team win.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Fresno State football key dates
- Wednesday: Players report for fall; first of 29 preseason practices is Thursday
- Sept. 3: Season opener at Nebraska, 5 p.m.
- Sept. 10: Home opener vs. Sacramento State, 7 p.m.
Aaron Peck career stats