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UVA's Peerman: Farmer, football player and minister

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The work Virginia running back Cedric Peerman has put in this season to lead the Cavaliers' improbable ascension from last place to first in the Coastal Division pales in comparison to the real work that has defined him.

Peerman could tell you more about the tobacco plant than you'd probably like to know. He spent his high school summers working on his grandfather's farm, hidden amongst the tall harvest. His grandfather had suffered a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair, leaving it up to Peerman and his family to work the farm.

He knows how to fertilize the tobacco, cultivate it, and bag it. He would get up at dawn and work until noon, when the sun began to scorch.

It put food on their table, he said.

"It was about a half a day's work, pulling a whole barn worth of tobacco," he said. "If you ask anybody about it, the people who know about it, they think it's a very tough job, it's very hard work. And it is very hard work. For us, it really brought the family together."

This past summer, Peerman took on a new job, and was licensed as a minister on July 19.

He also happens to be the heart of Virginia's offense. His recovery from a bruised knee and the Cavaliers' four-game winning streak heading into Saturday's game against Miami is no coincidence. After being limited in the first four games, Peerman has rushed for over 100 yards in three of the past four games. He is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and is seventh in the ACC with 4.29 receptions per game.

Just how much has Peerman meant to this Virginia team?

"It's hard to put a measure on how much it is, that's how significant it's been," coach Al Groh said. "Actually in a lot of ways, on a personal basis, Cedric is not one to insert himself into a lot of situations. I would say that while his influence has been broad-based, probably much more so on the field, how he conducts his business, runs each play, practices, competes. Things he says on the field have had a much greater impact than anything he says inside."

Groh said he hasn't seen anyone run harder or finish plays stronger than Peerman.

"He's at a very high level, that's for sure," Groh said. "Certainly nobody that we've had since we've been here who has surpassed that."

It all goes back to Peerman's work ethic. Center Jack Shields said Peerman is a team captain and "rightfully so."

"If you watch practice, on every play when he's handed the ball, it could be the 30th play of practice or it could be the first, but he runs hard," said Shields. "He'll run after the play. Coaches will even show it. That's something that ever since I came here as a freshman I've always noticed. All his hard work is starting to pay off for him."

And for Virginia, too.

It was his work on the tobacco field, though, that Peerman credits most.

"Working on the farm really shaped me into the person I am today," he said. "I know that without that, I wouldn't be where I am without that upbringing, even though some days I didn't like being out there in the hot sun working. It definitely paid off."