KNOXVILLE - The memorable chapter appeared to be at its end for Nathan Peterman.
Midway through the third quarter, the quarterback and his Bartram Trail High School team were down 33-16 to nationally ranked Armwood in the semifinals of Florida's Class 6A playoffs. The Bears already had set the school record for wins in a season, but they looked certain to fall short of going to their first state title game.
The Tennessee-bound Peterman had other ideas. Despite having thrown three interceptions, he threw a touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter that made it 33-31.
"You've got to keep competing no matter what," Peterman said this past week. "I learned a lot about myself and just keep fighting."
After Armwood, ESPN's second-ranked team, scored to make it 40-31, Peterman drove his team to the red zone before tossing his fourth interception. The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder threw just six all season. Bartram Trail went on to lose 46-38 in its first semifinal appearance since 2007, when former Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker led the Bears.
Peterman will move to Knoxville the first weekend in January and start his Volunteers career. Between now and then, though, it's about rest and physical and mental preparation, he said, in addition to an appearance in the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl on Dec. 29 at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, where he'll join three other UT commitments: kicker George Bullock, receiver Jason Croom and linebacker Otha Peters.
"I think it's a huge benefit that you can get started ... getting the offense together for yourself," said Peterman, who picked the Vols after earning his scholarship offer at UT's July camp. "It's a huge benefit, I think for quarterbacks especially, because you're the one that has to know all the ins and outs. I think it's a great thing, and for school too, to get that extra semester under your belt.
"It can help you further down the road with a master's and getting that done a little bit early."
Peterman completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for 2,937 yards, 36 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season. Bartram Trail runs a spread offense, though it has some pro-style aspects that are similar to what Peterman will encounter with the Vols. He improved his play and his stock when he adjusted his throwing motion.
"He's progressed a great deal from when I first saw him as a junior to where I you see him at the end of his senior year," said Chris Nee, a Rivals.com analyst who covers recruiting in Florida. "He always had a really nice arm, he was able to make a lot of different kinds of throws but now he's cleaned up his throwing motion. He can really stretch the field, but he's also good underneath and on the intermediate routes.
"The amount he moved forward as a player did surprise me, but the fact that he did improve didn't surprise me because he has a certain kind of makeup that's evident the first time you meet him and speak with him that he's a kid that's going to work really hard and try to perfect his craft. It was a huge jump - it was incredible - and the biggest thing he did was cleaning up the throwing motion. That helped him move everything forward with the accuracy and the arm strength."
Bartram Trail coach Darrell Sutherland told college coaches about his quarterback's intangibles.
"As good a football player he is, he's an even better young man, mature and responsible," Sutherland said. "He's a competitor. One of the things you can see in him is his teammates really respect him. He's a great leader by example, but he's willing to be a vocal leader, too.
"In order to do that, you've really got to be credible in the eyes of your teammates. He's earned their respect. That's who he is."
Peterman said he's still developing his relationship with UT offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. Darin Hinshaw was Peterman's primary recruiter, but he's moving from coaching quarterbacks to receivers after Charlie Baggett's retirement. Chaney will focus more with UT's quarterbacks.
"I can definitely say [the switch] was a surprise for me, just because I was talking with Coach Hinshaw the whole time," Peterman said. "I think it's a surprise, but I also think it's a good surprise, too, because I know Coach Chaney definitely knows what he's doing. It's just going to work to our benefit, I think."
Added Sutherland: "He's a good cerebral quarterback and has a great football IQ, but he's worked at it. That's one of the things that impressed college coaches, is as they spoke to him, that he understood coverages, understood reading progressions, understood some of the concepts that they would want him to look at."
Most of the Vols' 2012 class will have the opportunity to play early or provide depth, but with junior Tyler Bray and sophomore Justin Worley, UT appears set at quarterback. Peterman said he's aware of that, but he doesn't plan on changing his approach. After all, injuries did force the Vols to use three quarterbacks this season.
"I think my mindset's always going to be no matter what just to work hard and always be prepared," he said. "I feel that's kind of my personal thing, and just like this season, you never know what could happen. I just know I'm going to always need to be ready and always put myself as a starter in my mind, at least, if anything else."