Success = Preparation + Opportunity.
Add to this age-old formula a dose of God-given talent and it makes success all the more likely.
There are a lot of talented quarterbacks in Southwest Missouri this season, but the best of the bunch may be Bolivar’s Rafe Peavey. The three-year starter entered this season as the #4-ranked dual threat quarterback in the country, according to national recruiting website Rivals.com.
Peavey has certainly been blessed with God-given ability, something the humble senior is quick to point out. However, the son of a football coach and the younger brother of a quarterback who signed with a Division I school has prepared himself to succeed by making the right decisions on and off the field more often than not.
For example, when Rafe was in middle school, he followed his older brother, Kolton, and the family all around to various recruiting stops. Kolton, who quarterbacked the Liberators from 2009-10, eventually signed out of high school with South Alabama, a Division I school located in Mobile, Ala. (Kolton has since transferred to the University of Rhode Island, where is a quarterback for the Rams.)
Rafe tagged along to as many of Kolton’s recruiting trips as he could, and soaked up as much information as possible. When it came time for Rafe to enter high school, he already had a plan in place, and was preparing himself to succeed. Rafe will graduate at the end of this semester and enroll at the University of Arkansas, one of the SEC’s tradition-rich programs, in January, which will enable Rafe to participate in spring practice with the Razorbacks.
“I knew that that was a really big positive to graduate early and have those extra six months to learn the playbook and everything,” said Rafe. “Learning from my older brother, my freshman year I got to set my schedule up from the very beginning to try and graduate early…just in case I was ever in this position. It was just motivation to keep working.”
Rafe was a freshman during Kolton’s senior season, and then stepped into the QB1 spot as a sophomore. Despite experiencing immediate success, Rafe has remained grounded, realizing what is more important than a few press clippings and slaps on the back.
“The media has a way of anointing people before they’ve earned it, so it’s pretty silly to get a big head and think you’re ‘the man’ when you’ve proven nothing,” said Rafe. “I’m just staying humble and staying level-headed. I’m focusing on my team and on my teammates. Those are the guys that are gonna be with you and who are gonna be your biggest fans the rest of your life.”
Rafe and his teammates could not have started this season any better. Through four games, the Liberators were 4-0 and ranked second in the state in Class 4. The wins included an impressive, eye-opening 31-14 statement win at state-ranked Harrisonville, which beat Bolivar twice last season, as Rafe threw for three touchdowns and ran for another.
For the season, Rafe is 49-of-65 passing for 677 yards and seven touchdowns and, perhaps more importantly, no interceptions. He has also carried the ball 64 times for another 381 yards and eight touchdowns.
As a junior last season, Rafe was 101-of-172 for 1,872 yards and 16 touchdowns through the air (and just three interceptions), while gaining another 514 yards on the ground with an additional 13 scores. As a sophomore, Rafe passed for 1,734 yards on 85-of-123 accuracy with 20 touchdowns (and five picks), while rushing for 465 yards on 71 carries and 13 touchdowns.
Add it all up and it makes sense that Rafe is so highly regarded as a dual threat quarterback, having completed over 65 percent of his passes (235-of-360) for 4,283 yards and 43 touchdowns (with only eight interceptions) in his career. Rafe has also rushed for 1,360 yards on 254 carries (over five yards per carry) and another 34 touchdowns.
“Rafe is a good football player,” said Bolivar head coach Lance Roweton, who knows a thing or two about good football players, having been one himself as a former Liberator standout who led Bolivar to a state runner-up finish in 1992. “He has an exceptional arm. He’s fast and strong. He’s just a good athlete.”
Rafe has been one of the best, if not the best, players on every team he has been a part of since childhood. “From an early age, Rafe has had special athletic talent,” said Jack Peavey, Rafe’s father and the former head coach at Southwest Baptist University, which brought the Peavey family to Bolivar. “He scored on the very first play of eight-straight games his first year in flag football. In hockey his first year, he scored five goals in the championship game. In baseball, he’s always been an all-star.
“What is unique is that he has developed his body and work ethic to achieve all this attention and make sure he does all within his power to meet his expectations on the God given ability he has,” added Jack, who is now the head coach at Oklahoma Baptist University. “He is strong and fast and he is determined no one will out work him.”
Rafe originally committed to play collegiately for at Arkansas prior to his junior season in the summer of 2012. “I was just ready to get the decision out of the way and focus on my junior season,” said Rafe. “I felt comfortable with the old Arkansas coaching staff, with Coach Petrino. I had gone down there several times and met with Coach Petrino and with John L. Smith and Coach (Tim) Horton. I spent a long time praying on it. It was a pretty big decision to make.”
In the wake of Coach Petrino’s firing after his much-publicized motorcycle wreck and ensuing scandal, and the ensuing firing of interim coach John L. Smith last November following a 4-8 season, Rafe re-opened his recruiting. “It was pretty stressful at one point, but then I talked with my Dad and he told that I could either look at is as something that stresses me out, or I can flip it around and realize how blessed I am to be in the situation I’m in, because there are a lot of people that wish they were in my shoes,” said Rafe. “I just took that to heart and it kind of opened my eyes up a little bit. I’m just grateful.
“When everyone got fired, I kind of had to take a step back and make sure that that was still the right place for me,” he added. “So I took about three months to just make sure it was the right place. I spent a lot of time praying on it and God made it pretty clear that that was the place I was supposed to be.”
After Arkansas lured Bret Bielema from Wisconsin as its next head coach, Rafe got to know the new staff. In the end, Rafe reaffirmed his commitment to Arkansas in June of this year.
“There were a lot of factors that were positives out of it, too,” said Rafe of the “re-recruiting” process. “Coach (Jim) Chaney (Arkansas’ Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach) and Coach Bielema are two of the best coaches out there. They have Coach (Sam) Pittman for their O-line coach, whose QB got sacked like 11 times last year and eight the year before that. He’s obviously got a clue what he’s doing. I feel like that staff gives me a pretty good opportunity to play at the next level, and that’s kind of something that I was using to separate it.”
The recruiting process was a bit of a whirlwind, as some of the college game’s biggest names made their way to Bolivar. “The recruiting process has been fun,” said Roweton. “I’ve gotten to meet a lot of people from big places. I feel like Rafe’s handled it well. The thing with being recruited that highly is there’s added pressure to that. People need to remember that he’s still a kid. He’s still gonna make a lot of good plays and he’ll have a few mess-ups, like we all will. For the most part, though, I think he’s handled it well.”
Some of college football’s heavy hitters have been interested in Rafe, who received over 30 scholarship offers in all. In addition to Arkansas, some of the other schools involved include Missouri, PAC-12 powers USC and UCLA, Big 10 juggernaut Ohio State, Baylor and Kansas State from the Big 12, as well as Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, and Indiana.
The recruiting process has been a blessing for the entire family. “I feel that through Rafe's hard work, he is well deserving of the opportunities that have come his way,” said Rachael Peavey, Rafe’s proud mother. “The process for him has been overwhelming yet rewarding, having met many coaches and having visited different schools and what they have to offer. We took him on recruiting visits and experienced through his eyes what was important to him as a player, while as parents we were able to offer insight into things he may not have thought about. For instance, if he couldn't play football, would he still be happy going there?”
The Peaveys are a football family. Jack, who played in the NFL for both the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, was a highly successful high school coach in Massachusetts (winning multiple state championships) before moving onto the college ranks. The coaching stops took the Peaveys to William Paterson University in Wayne Township, N.J., before the move to Bolivar and SBU in 2005. Jack and Rachael have three children: Kolton, daughter Peyton and Rafe.
“I loved growing up as a coach’s son,” said Rafe. “Kolton and I used to always play catch on the sidelines of my dad’s high school games whenever he coached up in Massachusetts. We’ve just always been around the game ever since I was little. I pretty much just grew up with a football in my hands. It was just so much fun, always being around football players ever since we were little kids. I feel like that had a big role in who Kolton and I are today.”
“From the time Rafe could stand alone he has been on the sideline with me everywhere I was the head coach,” recalls Jack. “Our team was playing in the playoffs one year and I remember watching the game films. All the players were going ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ and it had nothing to do with the film of our game. The players all said, ‘Coach, watch Rafe on the sideline.’ He was playing tackle football with kids of all ages on the sideline. He was absolutely hammering those kids. It was so funny! All my former high school players now follow Rafe.”
So, with two Division I quarterbacks in the family, who is better…Kolton or Rafe?
“They are both outstanding quarterbacks and both have the intangible qualities that it takes to be a successful QB,” said Rachael. “As far as the tangibles, I think Kolt is more of a pocket passer and Rafe is a dual threat. They both have their strengths and they both have their weaknesses, just like Peyton and Eli Manning.”
“Both of our sons are uniquely special,” said Jack. “Both are leaders, both are men as parents we are proud of, both love the Lord, and both want to be great in everything they do. Whether it’s a biology test, playing Madden video games, or wrestling on the couch, they are competitive. I think that’s what makes them both great!
“I think it’s important to understand I never pit one against the other,” added Jack. “Without Kolt, there would be no Rafe. He has been the greatest guiding force for Rafe to witness what it means to be a leader, to be a man of character, and to carry himself with integrity. Don’t forget that our daughter, Peyton, has the same desires as her brothers. She is a worker, and she could probably play QB, too.”
“Rafe and I agreed that Peyton would have been the best of us all had she been a boy,” said Kolton with a laugh. “But she’s still the best athlete.”
Peyton, a former Liberator standout who is in her freshman season playing volleyball at College of the Ozarks, plays the QB style card, too. “Rafe and Kolton are both studs,” she says. “They are totally opposite types of quarterbacks, though. Rafe is more of a dual threat and Kolton is more of a pocket passer, but I think that they are both awesome at what they do.”
“I still think Kolton is the best quarterback,” said Rafe of his older brother. “I know some people don’t think that, but I’ve looked up to him my whole life. I would not be in the situation I am today without him for sure. He has taught me so much, both him and my parents. I’ve just been so blessed to be in such a great family, and to be surrounded by such great coaches and teammates. It’s really helped shape me into who I am today.”
The Peavey family is extremely close, particularly Peyton and Rafe, who are just a year apart. “Rafe is my best friend, not because he is my brother, but because of the person he is,” said Peyton. “Even though he is my younger brother, I look up to him for being a leader and for his love for life and the people around him. I have an awesome relationship with Rafe and I am so blessed to have him as my little brother. I don’t know what I would do without him and all the joy he brings into my life.”
Bolivar, which has not lost a COC-Small game since at least George W. Bush’s first term in office, has seemingly had a steady stream of top-notch quarterbacks over the past decade of dominance. From the Blair brothers, Colt and Spencer, to Preston Guiot, to the Peavey brothers the past five seasons, Rafe is the latest in a long line of successful signal-callers.
“He’s just another good one,” said Roweton. “The thing that separates him, though, is his tools. For high school, I’ve been blessed with 10 years, 11 years now, of really good ones. The difference is (Rafe) throws it harder and farther and he runs a little faster…and he’s bigger. Lots of those kids were good.”
Rafe’s tools are what set him apart from the rest. At 6-2 and 205 pounds, he does not possess the measurements of the prototypical quarterback. However, his arm strength is off the charts.
Roweton recalls an SEC coach putting Rafe on the Juggs gun, which measures velocity. The coach told Roweton that Rafe was consistently throwing the ball about 55 miles per hour. “That didn’t mean a whole lot to me,” said Roweton. “I know that in baseball, a 90 mile per hour pitch is pretty good, but it didn’t mean much with football.” According to the SEC coach, a good SEC-caliber quarterback will consistently throw the football 50 miles per hour, so Rafe’s 55 MPH was considered elite.
“I feel like, overall, we have several good players,” said Roweton of his team this season. “I feel like (Rafe’s) going to be the triggerman for all of it, offensively anyway. The thing with having a guy with an arm like that is that no throw is out of the question and you can be pretty creative with what you want to do, because he can get it there. His arm strength is elite, so that’s the big deal.”
Peavey also possesses blazing speed, which he displayed this past spring as a member of Bolivar’s two All-State relay teams. “We had three guys over 200 pounds out there,” laughed Rafe of the state track experience. “We were definitely the biggest relay team.”
Those tools were evident at an early age. “I knew Rafe was going to be good at an early age,” said Kolton, who is three years older. “When I was an eighth grader, we used to play pickup (tackle) football out on our game field. I remember Rafe being able to throw the ball 35-plus yards and outrun kids my age. The breakout moment to me, however, was when he went 60 yards on his first-ever carry as a freshman, but stepped out of bounds, so he wouldn’t run the score up on the opposing team.”
Rafe has been blessed with God-given talent, but he has worked relentlessly to foster that talent. That includes working with QB guru Skip Stitzell, who heads up The Quarterback’s Edge in Columbia. Over 25 former students of Stitzell have gone on to play Division I football.
“He has really helped me with my release point,” said Rafe of Stitzell’s mentoring. “With me being a shorter QB, he’s really helped me get my release point up, so I can get the ball over the defensive lineman. It helps me to fit balls into holes I couldn’t before. I started working with him during my sophomore year. That’s one thing I realized right off the bat was that I could make different throws that I really couldn’t make before. He’s really played a big part in everything that’s going on.”
Rafe has also participated in some elite football camps across the country, including working with another quarterback guru, Joe Dickinson, at the DeBartolo Football Academy in Shawnee, Okla. (located just outside Oklahoma City). In addition, Rafe was invited to the Elite 11 in Irving, Tex. (a suburb of Dallas) after his sophomore and junior seasons.
Rafe has also participated in the Marine All-American Combine in California, the Southwest Elite Showcase 7-on-7 Tournament in Springdale, Ark., this past summer, and the NZone Top Gun passing camp. Rafe has been invited to play in several of the postseason All-American games, but has not yet committed to play in any. Having participated in the Marine All-American Combine, though, The Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl might have the inside track in luring him to play in its showcase event.
Despite all the national rankings and media attention, Rafe has remained grounded. “What makes Rafe special as an athlete is his humility, which may sometimes be misunderstood,” said Rachael. “Someone his age who has had the exposure and attention that he has can often go to their head. I have never once heard him brag on himself. If anything he is too hard on himself.”
It’s not all football, all the time for Rafe, though. He does know how to have a good time off the field, too, as he and his friends have some unique ways of having fun. “We hang out in big groups,” said Rafe. “We try to have fun without doing bad stuff. We’ll go golf ball diving at Silo Ridge—with their permission, of course! We watch college football together, just hanging out and doing random stuff.”
Apparently, Rafe’s strength comes from an unlikely source, too. “He secretly loves to listen to Adele, and is the biggest Oreo fiend you have ever seen,” tells Kolton. “He swears Oreos give him strength.”
As the final days of Rafe’s senior season tick away one-by-one, he and the Liberators have some unfinished business awaiting them. First, Bolivar wants to maintain its ownership of the COC-Small crown, and then it’s off to District play, where a rematch with Harrisonville likely awaits.
Many pundits feel that a match-up with perennial state powerhouse Webb City awaits in the Class 4 state championship game in November, but there’s a lot of football to be played between now and then. “I just want to go out and enjoy it day by day, because I’ve only got a few more months with my teammates,” said Rafe. “I know that at the next level, it’s pretty much a business, so I’m just looking forward to having fun and competing with my teammates, and just leading them to the best season that we can have.”
Better pass the Oreos and crank up the Adele, then, because Rafe Peavey has been preparing for this season his whole life, and the Liberators have an opportunity to make it the most successful season in school history.
Originally published in the October 2013 issue of Ozark Preps Illustrated.