COLUMBIA — Mike Petrik, a senior safety on the Rock Bridge football team, had just committed a costly penalty. Midway through the second quarter of the Bruins’ homecoming game against Liberty on Oct. 19 at Rock Bridge Field, Petrik was flagged for a 25-yard pass interference call on a pass that didn’t even appear to be catchable. The play not only kept alive a Blue Jays’ drive that ended in a 30-yard field goal but it also provided early momentum for the Blue Jays in their 26-14 win.
“I was looking back for a run,” Petrik said. “Everyone makes a mistake. They’re going to happen. It’s just how you bounce back from it.”
On the next play, the Blue Jays ran a delayed swing pass to senior running back Sheldon Fannin. With most of the defenders covering deep routes, no one was there to cover the flat. Petrik, however, held his position mid-field. He watched the quarterback’s eyes, and right before the ball was thrown, ran towards Fannin. The pass was over Fannin’s head, but Petrik was the lone defender who could have stopped a potentially big play for the Blue Jays.
“That play reflects his leadership,” junior Mac Cooper said. “He’s a player that, if you do get him — nine out of 10 times you won’t — but if you do get him, he will come back even stronger. And he’ll see what he did wrong and make sure he’s on top next time.”
One area where Petrik is on top is statistics. Entering tonight’s game, Petrik is leading Rock Bridge in scoring, reception yards and interceptions. He is also second in rushing yards and third in tackles. His impressive stats are a result of opportunity. Petrik has played seven different positions this year, and he’s played eight different positions since his sophomore year, his first on varsity.
“He’s kind of a jack of all trades,” Bruins coach A.J. Ofodile said. “Most of the situations, it’s just a case of need. He’s a kid who definitely has a really high football IQ, but really a high athletic IQ as well. So he’s a kid you can plug into a lot of different positions and get instant production out of him, because he really understands how to play the game.”
Petrik’s understanding of the game, along with the fact that he is one of only three seniors, and the lone defensive starter returning from last year’s 9-1 team, has made him a leader for the Bruins. Much of his leadership, including saying the team prayer before each game, is apparent. But his leadership behind the scenes is just as beneficial.
Cooper, who moved from Pasadena, Calif., in August, said Petrik has helped him transition to a new school, a new city, and a new position, safety. Cooper played running back and wide receiver at his former school.
“I’m coming in as the new kid and thinking, ‘Oh man, how do I do this?’” Cooper said. “Mike just came to me and said, ‘If you ever need any help, just come to me. I will tell you whatever you need. Even if we were in the game, just say Mike and I’m right here. I’m always here to help you.’ And I’m like, OK, that’s perfect. I needed somebody the first couple of games to guide me. And he’s still a great motivating figure for me.”
Although he has been an influence for Cooper in the secondary, Petrik wasn’t even supposed to play safety. As the backup quarterback the past two years — he backed up Logan Gray, who now plays for the University of Georgia — Petrik was slated to be the starting quarterback. However, senior Jake Morse, who transferred from Desoto, Kan., in January, was awarded the position.
“I’ve just always been right there behind Logan waiting my turn until my senior year,” Petrik said. “We never knew that Jake was coming. I thought I would just play offense my senior year.”
Although there was no competition, Ofodile said there would have been advantages having Petrik at quarterback.
“We would have restructured our entire offense a whole lot and taken advantage of his athletic ability,” Ofodile said.
Petrik’s athletic ability, and his knowledge of the routes because he had been a quarterback, are reasons Ofodile moved him to wide receiver.
“In the slot we’ve always had really big play guys, guys that were reliable, and he kind of fit that mold of what we have had in that spot before,” Ofodile said. “It was pretty effortless (Petrik’s transition). When spring opened up, he went straight to wide receiver and he never really looked back.”
Although he had anticipated playing quarterback since his sophomore year, Petrik said he has enjoyed playing wide receiver, a position that provides him more opportunities to make plays.
“I thought I could make some big plays at wide receiver so I didn’t mind,” Petrik said. “And it took some pressure off me where I could just go out there and play backyard football, just juke some people out and show what I got.”
Petrik, who is being recruited by “small schools” to play basketball, also likes playing the slot, because he sees similarities between wide receiver and point guard.
“We’re not in control as much, but I like how once you get it in your hands you get to make some people miss and break some ankles and hopefully make the crowd make some noise,” he said. “I get to show my basketball athleticism. At wide receiver, after you catch the ball, with some quick footwork and with some jukes you can easily make some people miss. It’s fun to do it on the court or on the field. I don’t mind where it is. It’s just fun to make people look stupid.”
But is it tough to play so many positions?
“It’s not a physical problem,” Petrik said. “It’s more of a mental problem. Just knowing what to do on each play. I’ll play where they need me, and I’m there to fight with the team and I got some guys who would do the same.”