Springfield High School seniors Zack Breslin (let) and Tavion Smith (center) share a laugh with linebackers’ coach C.J. Peake before the start of a signing day ceremony at the school, Feb. 6, 2019. Nick Dudukovich/CONTRIBUTED

High School Football: Assistant coach making a difference for Wildcats

C.J. Peake remembers national signing day well.

Back in 2007, Peake was a four-star defensive back recruit at Trotwood-Madison. Rivals.com listed him as the sixth overall prospect in the state.

Peake had verbally committed to Wisconsin for five months leading up to signing day, but Louisville had also offered a scholarship and Peake changed his mind, even, if he wasn’t confident about the switch.

“At that moment, I still wasn’t really, sure, you know? I felt like i was rushed. I wasn’t really sure where I wanted to go,” he said. “Wisconsin probably would’ve been a better fit back then.”

Peake left the Louisville program twice—for good in 2010 after appearing in 12 games as a junior. From there he lived in Spokane, Wash. and San Diego, selling cars. Before coming home last spring, he spent a few years in Las Vegas, making his living as a poker player.

He looks back on his playing days with clarity. He knows his athleticism carried him, but he wishes he would’ve been pushed harder.

Springfield head coach Maurice Douglass coached Peake when he was a senior at Trotwood-Madison.

Douglass said he and his coaches challenged their star player, but not in the way “That you give everything you got until you don’t have anything left.”

“He would always coast because he was more athletic than most of the guys he played against, so he would never give everything,” Douglass said. “So he wants to make [his current players] give everything they have.”

Peake’s name came up a lot during Springfield’s latest signing day ceremony, which saw senior linebackers C.J. McDavid (Ashland), Zack Breslin (Wilmington) and Tavion Smith (Central State) commit to continue their athletic journeys at the collegiate level.

If you played under Peake, being pushed just wasn’t going to be an issue.

He took the job offering his players a clean slate. What you did last season or what you thought you were going to do didn’t matter. If kids wanted playing time, they would have to prove themselves to the new assistant.

“I told coach [Peake] coach [Douglass] doesn’t like me. The coaches don’t like me, because I haven’t had a chance to show what I can do,” Breslin said. “[Coach Peake] is like, ‘You can show me. Nobody here has a chance or a starting spot. It doesn’t matter if they have D-I offers or no offers, it doesn’t matter.’”

McDavid thought Peake was picking on him at first, when in reality, the coach had taken in interest in the player he shares a first name with.

“He was hard on me at first, but I finally came to the realize that he just wanted to see the best out of me because we have the same name and we wear the same number,” McDavid said.

Peake was just 11 when his father was killed. He believes things would’ve gone differently in college had his dad been alive to see him play.

“He would have been tough on me. He wouldn’t have let me slide,” Peake said. “As a coach, I want to be that person.”

Peake, who has a five-month old daughter named Parker, plans on continuing to coach. He’s hopeful that working with linebackers is just the start of what will become a long career.

While he’s only been in the profession for one season, his impact has already been felt.

“I love coach C.J.,” Breslin said. He’s done a lot for us.”