May 29, 2024

Two students at Birmingham High were trying to set up a canopy to give the flag football team relief from the afternoon heat. That’s when Peyton Waters, the reigning City Section football player of the year wearing his Washington Huskies shirt, stepped forward to lend a hand.

There are simple gestures, such as picking up a piece of trash in a locker room or a star player carrying water bottles without being asked, that offer a glimpse into a teenager’s character. Waters is just weeks away from leaving high school to start college classes in Seattle, and his parents, Paige and Jeff Waters, should be proud of how well prepared he is as his journey to adulthood takes another big leap.

Yes, he can do laundry. Yes, he can cook a little. What about those daily admonitions from Mom?

“Honestly, my mom is good at reminding me things to do; and being on my own, it’s not going to be like that,” Waters said. “I’ll have to set reminders.”

The 21st century has seen the rise of Birmingham football in the City Section, with the Patriots having won seven City titles while producing such exceptional players as Milton Knox, Dennis Keyes, Malik Jackson, Mason White and Arlis Boardingham. None, however, won three consecutive City titles, something that Waters is trying to pull off this month before he exits stage right for college football.

“It’s win-or-go-home time, so I have to do everything,” he said.

Top-seeded Birmingham (8-2) opens the Open Division playoffs at home on Thursday night against Narbonne, and you can expect the Patriots to turn loose their most versatile player. All Waters does is play receiver, occasional wildcat quarterback, safety and punter. He has 11 touchdown catches, two interceptions and is three-for-three passing while averaging 39.3 yards on punts.

“He’s a special kid,” coach Jim Rose said. “The good thing about him is he’s well-rounded. He could have gone to Stanford. He’s an athlete. He’s just gotten better and better. The sky’s the limit.”

Most intriguing is what the future might hold, since Waters didn’t play football his freshman year, the pandemic year of 2020-21. His focus was on basketball. He has since grown to 6 feet 2 and 170 pounds, and discovered football was his sport. He smartly used high school to learn about himself.

“Football was not new to me, but coming back into the sport was a refresher,” he said. “I took that chance, put my talent to good use and it really helped me figure out who I was and what I was meant for.”

Birmingham wide receiver Peyton Waters catches a touchdown pass against San Pedro in the 2021 City Section championship game.

Birmingham wide receiver Peyton Waters catches a touchdown pass against San Pedro in the 2021 City Section championship game.

(Alex Gallardo / For The Times)

No one is in better position to offer advice to high school athletes than Waters.

“As far as adversity and growing up, sometimes you don’t know what you want to do,” he said. “Trying new things and sticking with them can have positive benefits. You only go through high school once. Four years went by real fast. I’m about to be in college next semester. Just try everything. If you really want something, you’ll put in your time, energy, effort, money and blood, and people will invest in you.”

Birmingham hasn’t lost to a City Section team since 2017, a streak of 39 games. Wilson High holds the City record with 42 consecutive wins.

“Three City titles in a row would be amazing,” Waters said. “We have a lot of seniors on this team. Everyone wants to leave with a ring.”

The big concern for Birmingham is guarding against complacency. The Patriots know that any of the remaining seven teams in the Open Division can make their season with an upset. First up is Narbonne (4-6), which used to be the team to beat in the City Section until the program exodus following coach Manuel Douglas’ departure.

Waters is ready for the next part of his life, and his parents can take a bow.

“My parents always set a good example for my siblings and I, and now it’s go out and do what they taught us,” he said. “That’s what being an adult is, putting your best foot forward and do how your parents raised you.”

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