T.J. Peeler's long run at Broad Run High School takes him back to the state championship football game
Friday, December 11, 2009
The football-shaped sign sits inconspicuously in the middle of the manicured yard in front of a house in Ashburn, nearly identical to one in front of the house next door, and on it reads a name: simply, "T.J."
The sign announces that this is the home of a state championship football player for Broad Run, but how it ended up here, at a comfortable suburban home tucked away at the end of a cul-de-sac in the heart of the richest county in the country, had T.J. Peeler, the Spartans' senior running back, shaking his head earlier this week.
A few years ago, Peeler had no real home. His family had moved so many times in the previous six years he lost count. The cities and states no longer stayed straight in his mind. There were times Peeler wasn't sure where he'd lay his head, with different apartments and motels where his family would land and nights when even those were not an option. He isn't far removed from days when it was a question whether he would eat, or times he would have to find restaurant bathrooms to brush his teeth.
"We did what we had to do to stay together, but at the same time, things wasn't getting any better," Peeler said. "So I figured, I don't really know, at the age of 14, I wanted better. I've always wanted better for my family, and not just my family, [for] me. So I had to take things in my own hands. I told my mom I wanted to stay here so I could do what I needed to do: get an education."
In late spring of his freshman year, Peeler made a decision that has had a profound impact on the rest of his life. John Costello, the Broad Run boys' basketball coach, offered Peeler a place to stay in Ashburn. Peeler accepted.
At first, it was only temporary, but nearly three years later Peeler has become like another child to Costello and his wife, JoAnne.
"This is someone that has not only become significant, he's become a part of my family," Costello said. "To see him change his life has been very rewarding."
One of the top high school running backs in the state, Peeler is bound for Pittsburgh next year on a full scholarship. Saturday, he will lead the defending champion Spartans (13-0) into their second consecutive Virginia AA Division 4 title game. He is halfway through his fourth year at Broad Run, the only time he has been at a school for more than eight months since at least the fifth grade. He has a new family in which he has become a beloved son and brother.
He has a home.
'A hurtful time'
At points when talking about his life, Peeler shakes his head and changes the subject. There are some things he still is not ready to open up about. What Peeler does share, however, is revealing.
Beginning in fifth grade, when his mother married, Peeler's family -- he has two older brothers, Michael, 20, and Charlie, 22, and an older sister, Clara, 23 -- started a life that would move them up and down the East Coast as his stepfather, Ronald Davis, looked for steady jobs.
His mother, Caroline Davis, who recently moved to Bridgeport, Conn., said the longest the family was in one place was eight months. Peeler, who described his relationship with his stepfather as conflicted, said it often was shorter.