As a junior at Texas Christian University, Halapoulivaati Vaitai walked through a Dallas-area shopping mall with his cousin when the cousin stopped him mid-step.

“Hey, that’s Jason Peters!” the cousin said.

At 6-foot-4 and 328 pounds, Peters doesn’t easily blend in. But he works in Philadelphia and wears a helmet, so it’s not a celebrity sighting that would often resonate in Dallas. Except Vaitai, who is 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds, played offensive line just like Peters. He studied Peters’ film when learning technique. He wanted to meet Peters, so he approached the future Hall of Famer. Peters asked where Vaitai played and the two spoke for a few minutes.

“Work your butt off,” Peters said, “and you’ll be up here.”

One year later, the Eagles drafted Vaitai in the fifth round of the NFL draft. Peters found Vaitai’s number and called his new teammate.

“Remember me?” Peters asked.

“I didn’t know it was going to be literally here,” Vaitai said Friday, remembering the encounter.

Vaitai didn’t just become Peters’ teammate. He’s now Peters’ replacement in the starting lineup. Peters tore the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his right knee, sidelining the 35-year-old for the season. His future with the Eagles and in the NFL is unknown. It devastated the locker room, where Peters is one of the most respected figures. But the Eagles must guard against it have lingering effects on the season, which is off to one of the most promising starts in franchise history with a 6-1 record entering Sunday’s game against the winless San Francisco 49ers.