In Champaign, Michigan set to face its past in Brandon Peters
Jon Runyan Jr. still plays Mario Kart with Brandon Peters on his Nintendo Switch. The former Michigan quarterback is better — Runyan estimates Peters wins 55 percent of the time — but Runyan still takes pleasure in taking his wins and rubbing them in.
In those moments, it’s almost like the two are still roommates.
Runyan and Peters lived together last year. On Saturday, when the Michigan football team visits Illinois — where Peters is now the starting quarterback — the two will be reunited as players on two opposing teams, fighting for two disparate goals.
“I’m excited to hit a quarterback that’s on my team, actually — that was on my team,” said fifth-year senior linebacker Jordan Glasgow. “He was a good friend of mine while he was here and it's gonna be fun to play against him and hopefully we put him on the ground a lot. Hopefully nothing happens, but I want to make his day as rough as possible.”
From Runyan’s perspective, Peters was a quiet guy who kept mostly to himself. But sometimes, Peters opened up and talked about himself. After all, Peters didn’t have the normal career trajectory of a 6-foot-5, four-star quarterback Jim Harbaugh once compared to Andrew Luck.
Peters was once anointed Michigan’s savior, coming into a 2017 game against Rutgers to raucous cheers after it was clear John O’Korn would no longer cut it. It seemed like Peters could finally be the quarterback the Wolverines had been missing.
The feeling lasted for three fleeting games. Then Peters suffered a concussion against Wisconsin, could only watch as O’Korn was dreadful in a loss to Ohio State and looked utterly pedestrian in a bowl loss to South Carolina. That April, Shea Patterson was granted an instant-eligibility waiver and Peters’ entire career was thrown into flux.
“He never really voiced any displeasures to me,” Runyan said. “After that 2017 season, he was full on board with trying to win this spot even with Shea transferring and not knowing his eligibility. And he battled really hard throughout spring ball and throughout fall camp and I think they declared Shea the starter halfway through camp. ... In the end he did what was best for him and he’s in a pretty good place right now (at) Illinois.”
Runyan first heard that Peters wanted to transfer around December, when Michigan was beginning to prepare for the Peach Bowl, but he believes Peters was thinking about it before then — and who could blame him?
But Peters stayed invested in the team every step of the way and once the season was done, he took a hefty course load before leaving for Champaign in order to be eligible for a graduate transfer.
“He was always studying and I was always there just watching him,” Runyan said. “I felt bad for him, but he eventually did what’s best for him.”
Peters’ main options were Illinois and a handful of MAC schools, and the process wasn’t always kind. Peters was gone almost every weekend taking another visit. Some schools strung him along, offering him a visit, pulling it when they offered another quarterback, then begging for him back when that quarterback looked for other options.
But with the Illini, Peters got a starting job, the reputation of the Big Ten and a new home less than two hours from his hometown of Avon, Ind. And when the Wolverines see him there, they’ll be nothing but happy for him.
“I really liked Brandon a lot and he won us ballgames,” Harbaugh said. “ … Been following him, and I’d say the same for how he’s playing there at Illinois. Good player.”
Normally, the perfect reunion for Michigan would be Peters playing a good game while the Wolverines still winning anyway — by a lot.
But they aren’t guaranteed to get their happy ending. Peters left last week’s game with an injury, and he’s questionable for this week. After what Peters has been through, having to watch one of his team’s biggest games of the season — against his former team — from the sidelines would be a cruel twist of irony.
So now, the Wolverines are just hoping they get to see him out on the field and in a better place — and, of course, leave Champaign with a win. Then Runyan will have bragging rights much bigger than Mario Kart.
“He’s got his stuff going on, we’ve got ours,” Glasgow said. “But I wish him the best, except when he plays against us.”