Temple football: O'Tarian Peoples

Junior free safety O’Tarian Peoples and the Temple Wildcats take on the Killeen Shoemaker Grey Wolves tonight in District 12-6A action.

O’Tarian Peoples isn’t sure of the exact amount of family members to have previously suited up in Temple’s storied blue front, white back pants and, or, walked the high school’s halls. So, he settled for the general sum of “a lot” as he tried to pick a total out of the air.

But, really, no specific number is necessary because the Wildcats’ 6-foot, 190-pound junior safety is nevertheless well aware of the lineage, and his drive to represent it to the best of his ability is no less committed.

“It’s a big deal. It’s just very important,” said Peoples, who often goes by O.T. “It’s a tradition and you just have to live up to the tradition.”

For a Temple native almost destined based on name alone to one day take the Wildcat Stadium field, Peoples had sort of a late start in the sport.

That’s because he had to coerce his mom into letting him play.

“My mom was always scared I was going to get hurt. I finally convinced her in the sixth grade,” Peoples said.

It’s fair to speculate that gaining the desired permission from mom required a hearty amount of persistence, hard work and determination. That he was up to the challenge fits with characteristic traits of a player who Temple head coach Scott Stewart described as a self-motivator and is reflected in the effort Peoples puts forth on the field and in the classroom.

Peoples earned significant playing time last season as a sophomore and parlayed that experience into his expanded role this season, switching from strong safety to free safety with relative ease. And during the first six-week grading period, he landed on the A/B honor roll.

“As long as you stay hungry and don’t get satisfied, anything can happen,” Peoples said. “I always keep that in my head because as soon as you get satisfied, that’s when you fall.”

To avoid the trap that is contentment after a respectable sophomore campaign that had the typical ups and downs associated with a 10th-grader learning the varsity ropes under the bright lights, Peoples said he focused his offseason training on speed and strength, taking into account increased pass coverage responsibilities he’d be tasked with at his new position. What that looked like was more time in the weight room and attention to detail in film study, including breaking down wide receiver tendencies and route intricacies.

With spring practice sidelined because of the coronavirus, a greater sense of urgency seemed to sprout when players gathered again in early June, and a bond quickly formed within Temple’s defensive unit, something that Peoples points to as a major factor in the Wildcats’ improvements on that side of the ball.

“In the summer, we were like, we want to be good because last year we weren’t the best. So, we just came together as a group and said we wanted to put the clamp on people,” Peoples said.

Out of that, the moniker “Clamp Crew” was developed.

“It’s a mindset,” Peoples added.

So far this season, Temple (7-1, 5-0) is surrendering 288 yards per game, and Peoples shares the team lead of three takeaways with linebacker Faylin Lee. Peoples — who is buoyed by a wide-ranging support system that he said he appreciates — also has two pass breakups, recovered a fumble and scored the defense’s lone TD, which he tallied in the season opener against Longview.

The statistics are results of the age-old adage of practice makes perfect, or it at least provides the outlet to hone in on perfection, and Stewart provided an example Tuesday to illustrate both Peoples’ approach to training and his overall ability. During a recent practice, Peoples was to take a specific angle as he defended a receiver’s route. He didn’t nail the technique yet still managed a one-handed interception. Within seconds of landing on his feet with the ball in hand, he turned to Stewart and, as the coach recalled, said, “I didn’t do that right, did I?”

“He’s just so natural. He has a faster processor than most. He doesn’t memorize a bunch of stuff, he feels it. He sees it fast. He can get ahead of it,” Stewart said.

“He bleeds blue. The Peoples name has been around Temple for generations. I’ve probably coached five Peoples just in my time here. He takes a lot of pride in the fact that his family has deep roots here. He probably takes it as personal as any of them, as far as legacy. It hits a little bit different with that kid. He does not like to let anybody down.”

His self-imposed high expectations help explain the remorse Peoples felt after having to sit out the first half of the Wildcats’ district opener against Copperas Cove for a violation of team rules. The experience taught Peoples a valuable lesson and he’s certainly not one to shy away from learning, which is an important factor in his growth as the positive example he aims to be for younger brother O’Ryan.

“I have to think about who’s counting on me and make sure I make good decisions — don’t put myself first,” Peoples said. “I just love my team, my teammates.”

With a playoff spot in hand, Temple (7-1, 5-0) has done plenty right to put itself in first place heading into tonight’s league clash with second-place Killeen Shoemaker (6-1, 4-1) that is slated for a 7 p.m. start at Leo Buckley Stadium. And, now, the Wildcats can clinch an outright league championship with a victory over the Grey Wolves.

Added pressure? Not any more than any other game as a Temple Wildcat.

“I know we are playing for (the district championship) but I’m not going to put that at the top of my mind. I’m just going to make sure I do my job,” Peoples said.