When Runnels looks at Marcus Major, he sees Adrian Peterson

Jason White scrambles behind a block from fullback J.D. Runnels, who is tangling with Texas Tech’s Fletcher Session on Oct. 2, 2004. Runnels is a fan of OU recruit Marcus Major.

It was J.D. Runnels’ pleasure to introduce Marcus Major to Adrian Peterson.

On April 14 at the Oklahoma football spring game, Runnels believes he saw two mirror images lock eyes. Then he watched them lock hands.

Peterson remains arguably the most impressive running back to stretch an OU uniform across his back, and has always been known for his plier-grip handshake.

Yet, when he and Major embraced palms, it was Peterson who was taken aback.

“You got some muscles on you, kid,” Peterson told him.

Runnels, an OU fullback from 2002-05 whose career intersected with Peterson’s for two seasons, laughs as he tells the story now. But he’s serious about the ways Major, a 2019 running back who verbally committed to the Sooners last week, and Peterson are alike.

“I don’t take what I’m about to say lightly. Would not say it if I didn’t mean it,” Runnels tweeted on January 20. “Marcus Major is the closest high school [running back] I’ve seen to Adrian Peterson.”

That tweet made the rounds again last weekend shortly after Major made a quiet pledge to attend OU. Runnels hopes people keep his words in context. Major is not Peterson right now, nor is he the next Peterson, nor is he Peterson 2.0. But the rising senior from Oklahoma City’s Millwood High School shows flashes.

Why, exactly?

Major rushed for 1,155 yards and 23 touchdowns last season during Millwood’s run to a second straight unbeaten season and Class 2A state championship — the fourth-smallest high school classification in Oklahoma. Many of his defenders were much smaller.

Runnels’ comparison is lined in Major’s 6-foot, 200-pound frame, which squeezed through the doors of Runnels’ Nutrition and Athletic Club of Choctaw training facility in early January. Suddenly, it was clear why scholarship offers from schools like Michigan, Auburn, Florida, Texas, Alabama and Southern Cal soon flowed in.

The combine-style testing Runnels conducts daily — and has used for the nearly 15 Division I athletes who have cycled through his gym since he opened in 2013 — was always one of Peterson’s strengths. These are feats of pure brawn and unchecked athleticism.

On their first day together, Runnels asked Major to perform an “L” drill. The exercise’s first movement is simple — run five yards as fast as you can. Major lurched forward, and to Runnels, it seemed as though he’d almost covered the distance in one burst.

“That takes incredible strength,” Runnels said. “His quads are some of the biggest I’ve seen on a kid.”

Peterson’s OU career included 4,041 yards rushing and 41 touchdowns. He ran like a train — another similarity Runnels sees in Major — and flaunted an impressive physique. He had a barrel chest, a carved-out midsection, and shoulders that made architects rethink conventional doorway width.

Major scores high grades in that area, too.

Alabama wide receiver coach Josh Gattis discovered that on May 22, while attending a Millwood practice to evaluate Falcon standout Demariyon Houston. Runnels was in attendance and recalls Gattis, a friend of his, holding a video camera. Alabama coach Nick Saban compiles as much first-hand video on prospects as possible.

“Marcus isn’t even practicing on this day,” Runnels recalls. “He was sitting out, kind of coaching guys and helping guys out, but then he did some rehab. So he starts running strides across the field, and he’s running with his shirt off. Gattis turns and looks at him and puts his video camera on him and starts videoing him. Then he sends the video to Saban.

“Within 10 minutes they’d offered a scholarship based on him running strides without his shirt.”

Major isn’t a consensus top-five player nationally from the 2019 class. He’s a four-star recruit and the No. 17-ranked running back in America, according to 247sports. Rivals.com assigns him three stars with a No. 29 ranking at his position.

Runnels reminds his pupil that Peterson possesses a feverish work ethic. Even though their muscles, and even some mannerisms, are alike, many steps remain between Major and the greatness Peterson achieved.

Still, there’s a reason Runnels made the lofty comparison that he did, and a reason he made it so quickly. Thirteen minutes into Major’s first workout in Choctaw, Runnels had seen enough. He later tweeted his opinion, with Major’s permission.

Ten days later, OU extended a scholarship offer.

“There just wasn’t any doubt,” Runnels said. “How he jumped, how much muscle he had, how much football savvy he had. You’re just like, this is the dude.

“There’s only one guy that froze me that many times, and that was Adrian.”

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