Jalen Pickett-Hicks is probably going to fall short of his joking preseason bet with South Pointe assistant football coaches Pat Burris and Gerald Peake. Pickett-Hicks apparently felt confident he would have 25 quarterback sacks this season (or have to pay the two coaches a hundred bucks). He’s currently stuck on 5.5.
Burris and Peake reminded the teenager of how far he was from his goal during Tuesday’s practice. It was a typical Peake moment.
“You still work up at Bi-Lo?” he hollered at Pickett-Hicks from across the field. “When I come get my turkey I’m gonna come get my money!”
Everyone laughed, which often happens around Peake, the former Air Force man who has coached at South Pointe since the school opened. Peake coaches the Stallions’ defensive linemen and runs South Pointe’s in-school suspension program.
“One, he’s a disciplinarian so players know the expectation that he has,” said South Pointe coach Strait Herron. “They’ve got to do what’s right or there is gonna be consequences. If you really talk to a kid that’s what most of them want. Peake gives that to them, but the other thing is he has a comedian side to him that the kids love and keeps things fresh.”
Peake treats all of the players the same way, whether they’re a 10th grade third-stringer or a muscular senior committed to an ACC school, like senior Eli Adams. Peake refers to Adams by his jersey number, “eight.” The kind of funny humility Peake shovels atop South Pointe’s star players is crucial for balance at a program ranked fifth in the nation.
“We have good players but he gets the best out of them,” said Stallions defensive coordinator Jason Winstead. “You’re gonna do it 100 miles an hour. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Division I prospect or a third string guy, you’re coming out of the game. That goes for any of the good ones we’ve had.”
Peake’s democratic treatment usually consists of a heavy dollop of sarcasm laced with a biting wit, delivered in booming volume.
“Playing with Coach Peake is an experience,” said Adams. “Just knowing that he comes with a loud voice, he brings the passion, but he cares, though. All his passion for the game and experience he brings, it’s worth it.”
Peake’s volume drops drastically when talking one-on-one. It drops again when he’s asked about the health scare he had back in September, three days before the Stallions played their high profile game against Shelby.
The 53-year old was writing a hall pass for a student when he started to feel stroke-like symptoms and was rushed to the hospital. He was released several days later. Doctors are still running tests on him to nail down exactly what happened.
Regardless, it was “Pretty scary,” said Peake. “You see your life flash before you and then you start asking yourself once you get through it, ‘why? Why did God save me? What’s the purpose now?’
“And I think, after speaking to my wife and making sure she’s okay, my next thought was to these kids, and how do I get back to them? And if something happened to me, do they know that I really love them? And that’s where I am at now in my new journey, is to let these kids know how much I care about them.”
The kids know.
And they work for him, happy to put in the hours or take the verbal jabs in front of their peers because they know. Pickett-Hicks said Peake’s absence from the team was conspicuous.
“A lot of people were worried about him,” he said.
Peake’s health scare tempered his gung-ho coaching approach... somewhat. But he still can let it rip when a player’s half-hearted effort earns his wrath. Or when they owe him money from a preseason bet.
“I try to be low-key, I don’t get as amped up as I did. I take each day now and I just live it to the fullest,” said Peake. “I don’t know when my last day is up so I just want to enjoy the moment and enjoy the process of being out here with them.”