Juke Peaker loves putting up big numbers.
Like all running backs, the Northeast High School rising senior would be quite happy when he went for 100 yards and even happier when he found the end zone a few times.
But that’s not the numbers his mom worried about.
She always wanted to see her son, whose real name is Jon-Luke but goes by “Juke” for his moves on the football field, put up the high numbers in the classroom.
He made them both happy.
“Education was always the biggest thing to my mom,” Peaker said. “She cared about football and wanted to see me do well, but she was way more worried about how I did in school. I do well, and it’s because of her. She always stressed it. She was always there for me, to help or whatever I needed.”
It’s safe to say mom is very proud of her boy now.
Sadly, earlier this month, his mom passed away after a short battle with coronavirus. It happened about six weeks after his older brother Jared Cross, 31, died of heart disease.
It hasn’t been easy for Peaker and his family, which also includes his father and twin siblings Franklin and Lashainnia, 20, who were named after his parents.
“It’s been really hard, but we’re helping each other,” said Peaker, who lives in Mount Airy. “My dad is doing a lot of things, he’s trying to get everything straightened out. He’s dealing with our insurance and making sure we have money because my mom worked. It’s hard, but we all have each other.
“She was a great mom, she was always there for all of us. We’re doing the same thing. We are all there. If anyone needs anything, we’re there.”
Peaker does have some news that is putting a big smile on his family’s faces.
He has secured a chance to set himself up for the future.
Peaker has accepted a scholarship to Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, where he will continue his football career and major in business.
It couldn’t be a better fit for him. They’re bringing him in to play running back, his favorite position, and he couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity.
“I loved everything about it, they made me feel like they really wanted me,” said Peaker, who made the decision official on Sunday. “It’s a great situation. They didn’t have a great year last year, but they’re up and coming. They have a lot of great coaches, some who were at Penn State, and they’re really doing good things. I’m very excited to be part of it.”
The location doesn’t hurt, either. The school isn’t far from the beach, but Peaker is way more concerned about what he’ll do on the turf than on the sand.
“That wasn’t one of the reasons I picked it, not at all, but it is in a great spot,” Peaker said. “I’m going there because it’s a great situation. It’s a great school, I know I can learn a lot there. It has a great business program, and I really think the football can be great. It had everything I wanted, and I loved the feel I got from it.”
Peaker couldn’t be happier with his decision to attend Old Dominion, and now he’s ready to focus on his final year as a Viking.
Peaker transferred into Northeast prior to his junior year by way of Bishop McDevitt, immediately became the starting running back for the Vikings, and he took full advantage of it, going for more than 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Those numbers were good, but they could have been even better. However, Northeast had a lot of talented ball carriers, so the coaches kept them fresh, which meant fewer carries for Peaker.
He knows he could have had better numbers, but he loved the way it worked out.
“Everyone wants the ball, but we had so many guys who are talented, and so many who were good, nobody minded,” Peaker said. “Everyone is back, too, so we can do it again. We all like getting the ball. There were games I wanted it more, but looking back, I’m really happy the way it worked out.”
While the backfield had plenty of talent, Peaker was the workhorse, and when the Vikings advanced to the District 12 championship game, he carried the ball 16 times against St. Joe’s Prep for 146 yards and a touchdown.
“I had the best running game against them, and they played a lot of great teams,” Peaker said. “That was a great game. We had them, and then they got us. They’re a great team. We want them again. We want another chance at them because they’re great, but we should be great, too.”
The Vikings come into the season as one of the top teams in the state and it would be a major upset if Northeast didn’t win its fifth straight Public League 6A championship this year, which would likely mean another showdown with Prep.
Prep is loaded, but Northeast has a lot of Division I talent and those players should match up well with the Hawks.
“It’s great that we have so many great players because you love to see your friends do great, see your friends make it,” Peaker said. “I love seeing them do great, and they like seeing me do great. We’re all there for each other.”
That’s something Peaker has learned from his teammates. It’s also something he’s learned from his entire family.
He knows they’ll be around this year to watch him help Northeast, and next year they’ll be following along as he helps the Monarchs.
“We’re real close, my family all supports each other,” Peaker said. “My dad is great. My mom was great, too. They’re always there for us, and we’ll be there for him. It’s hard without my mom, but it helps to have them. We’re going to help each other the whole way.”