Birmingham’s Peyton Waters looks on against Oak Park September 1, 2023. (Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)
Birmingham football coach Jim Rose hasn’t had many athletes with the malleability to line up at wide receiver, cornerback, wildcat quarterback and punter. Then again, not many athletes are Peyton Waters.
Question Rose on why he puts Waters in so many scenarios and his answer is simple.
“Just ask Washington,” Rose said.
He’s referring to the University of Washington, where Waters committed to in late August. His versatility was certainly appealing to colleges, 247Sports recruiting analyst Greg Biggins said, and it’s that trait that enticed schools such as UCLA, Stanford, Northwestern, Utah, and Oregon, along with Washington who ultimately won over the four-star recruit.
In college, Waters expects to play defensive back — probably deep safety or strong safety based on how much weight he puts on, he said. His experience playing on the offensive side of the ball will translate to reading defenses and hauling in interceptions.
But he can’t hone in on any one position yet, not if Rose has any say in the matter.
“Your best (athlete) is usually your best guy,” Rose said. “He’s a great athlete.”
Waters is a star who’s willing to make sacrifices for his team — shown by his willingness to play special teams.
So why not use him in all three phases of the game?
Last week, Waters pushed Birmingham past Oak Park 56-7. He led the team with 214 all-purpose yards. He had five catches for 74 yards, completed all four of his pass attempts for 45 yards, and ran for 95 yards and three touchdowns.
His first score came from punter — a role he regularly fills for the Patriots, which gives them the opportunity to fake punts when the look is there. And on fourth-and-5 from the Oak Park 45-yard line, it was. Their opening drive had come to a halt, but Waters took the snap and dashed to his right for a touchdown.
“We do that every day in practice,” Waters said.
Birmingham’s Peyton Waters breaks away for a touchdown against Oak Park September 1, 2023. (Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)
Waters is confident in his abilities to kick and pin an opponent inside their 20, but he’d rather put six on the scoreboard if the opportunity presents itself.
After the Patriots had built a 28-point lead, Waters began to line up at quarterback. He refers to himself as a wildcat, as this isn’t the first year he’s manned that position and they tend to put him back there to run zone and read options. This year, he’s more of a dual-threat.
“He’s throwing the ball better than he did a year ago,” Rose said. “He’s got the green light to do what he wants when he’s in that position.”
Both of Waters’ offensive touchdowns came on quarterback runs. The first, a 40-yard breakaway where he fooled the entire Eagles defense that he was handing the ball to running back Isiah Thompson. The second was a read option on the Oak Park 5, where he used his speed to beat three Eagles defenders to the edge.
He read the field like a seasoned gunslinger, as well, completing comeback routes and slants to a variety of receivers. Late in the third quarter, he hit wide receiver Devyn Jackson in stride to set up a first down inside the Eagles 15, which set up that second rushing touchdown three plays later.
“I practice a little bit of that,” Waters said. “When they need me to throw, I can throw it. I like being able to be relied on.”
Those snaps under center make him a better all-around player and a more desirable prospect.
“If you’re a receiver who’s played quarterback, you’re a precise route runner,” Biggins said of Waters, who may also get a crack at playing receiver in college. “And I also think, from a defensive back’s perspective, you’ve got a feel for the quarterback and you’re just able to read their eyes and anticipate.”
That was evident in how Birmingham utilizes him on defense. The lack of stats he posted on that side on Friday spoke to his presence at outside corner. Oak Park quarterback Johnny Fulmer targeted Waters’ man just once and it resulted in an incompletion.
The Patriots lined up in man, almost exclusively, after having lined up in zone in their two previous matchups. Waters prefers the challenge of having to lock down a receiver.
“Mirror the receiver, it’s all about effort,” Waters said. “You just got to be the better guy.”
After Birmingham lost to Laguna Hills in last year’s SoCal Division 3A Regional championship, Waters is trying hard not to look too far forward to those days in Seattle when he can just focus on playing defensive back, adding weight, and improving his ability to come down and tackle a ball carrier.
Instead, he’s set on helping the Patriots win a fourth consecutive Open Division title in the City Section and make it to a state championship game in any way he can.
Birmingham’s Peyton Waters gains yards against Oak Park during their nonleague football game September 1, 2023. (Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)
Like last week, when he added long snapper to the list of positions he can play.
“A lot of star players would probably say, ‘forget that, that’s beneath me,’ ” Biggins said. “If he’s willing to long snap, and do whatever, it shows great leadership and high character.”
The Patriots’ starting long snapper had sustained an injury while playing offense, so kicker Jacy Oliva came into punt while Waters began to snap him the ball. If it’s his versatility that got him looks from DI colleges, then it’s selfless acts like playing special teams that separate him from the others.
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