McALESTER — For Josh Peckio, McAlester senior and starting defensive end, football is all about the contact. The physicality, the hits, the battle — that’s what Peckio said forges football’s deep bonds between its players.
Peckio got his first taste of football’s physicality playing flag football in the third grade.
“Flag football out here on the field, Cade Harkins catches the ball,” Peckio said Tuesday. “I had his flag, and he spins and elbows me and gives me a black eye.
“I was pretty proud about it.”
Peckio was born in McAlester and went through McAlester’s public school system. He played linebacker in junior high and his freshman year, but he suffered a medial collateral ligament injury in his knee on the first play of the first day of padded practice his sophomore year.
“Going in for a tackle, and Mikey (Verner) falls back from making a tackle and lands right into my knee,” Peckio said.
The injury cost Peckio almost all of his 2011 sophomore season, returning just in time for the Buffs’ state semifinal game against Guthrie. Still regaining the mobility necessary to be a linebacker, Peckio switched to the defensive line.
“Because of the knee injury, they wanted my hand down (in a three-point stance),” Peckio said. “And also, I’d get playing time faster as a d-lineman as opposed to a linebacker. I loved it. ... Contact every play, coming right off the ball, always get to hit somebody.”
Whether on offense or defense, lineman rarely get as much recognition as skill-position players. But games are often won or lost at the line of scrimmage — what Peckio called the “battle in the trenches” — and knowing that binds the line together.
“You spend so much time up here with everybody,” Peckio said. “You really aren’t with your family that much.
“You don’t go out there and play for yourself. You’re playing for your buddy right next you.”
Peckio spent the rest of the 2011-12 school year regaining strength in his knee, working with Buffs coach Austin Maddux and participating in McAlester’s winter powerlifting program.
Peckio continued powerlifting for the 2012-13 year, qualifying for the state competition in the 242-pound weight class.
“He’s one of those guys that does everything we ask him to do,” Buffs coach Bryan Pratt said.
“He’s a good kid, works hard for us, made some plays for us and really helped out.”
Though Peckio had made varsity as a freshman, he saw little playing time, then lost his sophomore year to injury. He said he really started to feel like a Buffalo during McAlester’s 2012 season-opener at Stillwater.
“I go to find Coach (Kevin) Harmon, but all I notice is all the people behind him in the stands,” Peckio said of that game.
Peckio didn’t start as a junior, but he got enough minutes coming off the sideline that when he returned as a senior, Coach Pratt said it was almost like getting back a starter. Peckio took some snaps on the offensive line earlier this season, but he’s since returned to play exclusively on the defensive line.
It’s taken McAlester’s defense a few games to gel this season, but it took a huge step forward Friday against Noble.
“They ran sweep away from me in the fourth quarter, and I get the block-down from the backside guard and go flat down the hill,” Peckio said of a play against Noble, breaking into a big smile. “Robby (Stephens) is going in to make the tackle, the guy tries to side-step him and I take his helmet off of his head.”
When he’s not playing football, Peckio still tries to find a way to improve his game, working out or watching video. He also spends a lot of time with his youth group at First Baptist Church in McAlester.
Though he didn’t go to church often as a young boy, Peckio said he started going in the eighth grade, when youth minister Brad Millsap invited him. Millsap left a big enough impression on Peckio that Peckio someday wants to be a youth or children’s minister himself.
“They’ve kept me out of a lot trouble,” Peckio said of FBC McAlester. “Football has too, kept me out of a lot of trouble, but my youth minister Brad, because my father hasn’t been around, he’s been kind of my father. Since I met him, he’s always there when I needed him.”
Peckio said he’d also like to continue playing football in college. Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee is Peckio’s top choice, and even if he can’t earn a football scholarship, Peckio said he’ll likely try to walk on to the football team at whichever college he attends.
Peckio’s taken some damage playing football, but that just keeps him coming back for more. And no matter the pain, Peckio just loves the contact too much to walk away.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.