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El Cajon Valley linebacker plays for mother’s memory

10/18/2012, 10:32pm PDT
By Dennis Lin

Tattoos’ ink helps write senior’s stirring success story


El Cajon Valley senior linebacker Ryan Peet has tattoos to honor the memory of his mother, who died in 2005 when Ryan was 9 years old.

— The mother Ryan Peet lost has found a resting place on his left forearm.

She settled there last May 5. That day, the tattoo artist’s needle punctured skin and left behind a daisy flower. Maroon with a splash of orange. Engraved with the name Rebecca Ellen.

The same flower is etched into a plaque on a tombstone at Oceanside’s Eternal Hills Memorial Park. Rebecca Ellen Peet was 35 when she died Jan. 18, 2005.

Ryan was only 9 at the time. His football career, his way of honoring the mother he lost, was just beginning.

“Everything I do I want to do for her,” the El Cajon Valley High senior said more than seven years later. “I know she’s looking down on me.”

What a sight it must be to see how far this linebacker has come. Nine tackles, two sacks, a safety and a fumble returned for a touchdown in a Sept. 7 win over Montgomery. Two weeks later, 15 tackles in a victory against San Ysidro. Dozens of other plays made by a relentless 6-foot, 170-pound athlete who once thought about quitting the sport.

“When he plays hard,” Braves coach Norman Whitehead said, “he’s one of the best defensive players in the county.”

Rebecca Peet was fast. Fast enough to push Ryan’s father in what should have been a casual footrace. James Peet had run a mile in 4 minutes, 14 seconds while at MiraCosta College. Rebecca had only dabbled in track at Fallbrook High.

“I beat her, but not by much,” said James, a former receiver and defensive back at Oceanside High. “Anything she ever did athletically she was amazing at.”

She channeled her drive into raising two sons who would one day rival her athletic talents. She found time to create a successful career as a sales representative for the North County Times.

A tumor was discovered in the left side of her brain in the spring of 2001. Eventually, the ensuing chemotherapy and treatment confined her to a bed.

She died in her sleep that January day. Ryan and his younger brother, Kellen, had yet to grasp the full meaning of what had happened. But they remember what happened next.

“Everything kinda fell apart when she passed,” Ryan said.

Relatives who had once been close to the family grew distant. Ryan and his father clashed. Hours that had been spent playing football in their Carlsbad street or celebrating strikes at the bowling alley faded into the past as Ryan’s grades dropped and sports lost their appeal.

“We weren’t getting along,” James said. “It just got to a bad place.”

In the fall of 2010, Ryan, then a sophomore at Carlsbad High, went to live with his uncle and aunt in El Cajon, where he started attending El Cajon Valley High.

“I was like, ‘I can’t deal with this, I can’t fail classes in schools, I gotta move out,’” Ryan said.

Said James: “Probably the single hardest thing I’ve ever gone through.”

Ryan surprised even himself last football season. He had started on the freshman team at Carlsbad, but after not playing in a game his sophomore year and with his stormy exit from his father’s house still lingering, he had considered dropping football altogether.

Brandon Medley — Rebecca’s brother — and his wife, Angela, wouldn’t hear of it.

“I looked at him and said, ‘You’re gonna get good grades and take hard classes and play sports because that’s what you do in this house,’” Angela said.

So he did. His grade-point average ticked back above 3.0. He made new friends, with help from his cousin and football teammate, Jeremy Medley, and was named junior-class homecoming king. After the season, he was selected by coaches to the All-Grossmont Valley League first-team defense.

“When people ask about Ryan,” Angela said, “we tell them he did this. We’re lucky. He makes us look good.”

All while wearing No. 27, his jersey number since fifth grade. Rebecca’s birthday is June 27.

Ryan’s right forearm offers more reminders. The tattoo artist’s needle went to work again last summer and drew the name PEET in green, Kellen’s favorite color. Then in April came the image of a concrete bridge in Fallbrook, a short walk from the house where Rebecca grew up and where half of her ashes are buried next to Ryan’s grandmother.

Ryan will take these tributes with him next fall, when he could become the first member of his family to attend a four-year college. New Mexico State, San Diego State and San Jose State have shown interest in the linebacker, who has the frame to add 40 to 50 pounds.

“His mom always wanted him to go to college,” said James, who calls his relationship with Ryan “as good as it’s been” since he moved out. “I’m proud of everything about him right now. The thing that happened to his mom is probably the most single horrific thing that could’ve happened. I’m proud of him for getting up every day and going through life.”

Ryan’s brother and father will be watching from the stands tonight when El Cajon Valley visits Orange Glen. Ryan will be playing for Kellen, now the starting quarterback for Carlsbad’s freshman team, and for James, who introduced Ryan to football and told him it could take him anywhere.

“That would mean so much,” Ryan said of the possibility of a scholarship. “I never thought I’d have the chance to play football in college.”

Rebecca won’t be in the stands. But her name will be on her son’s forearm, her memory driving him toward a dream no longer out of reach.

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