NCAA awards Hawaii’s Peters a sixth year of football
UH's tackles leader in 2004 was hurt in the '05 opener and missed the rest of the season
On a football team of more than 100 athletes, a select few can make a bigger impact than the rest by their presence and ability.
For Hawaii, Leonard Peters is one of those players, and the Warriors learned yesterday the free safety from Kahuku will be eligible to play this fall. The NCAA informed UH that the school's appeal for an additional season of eligibility for Peters because of injury was approved.
The NCAA had not returned its decisions yesterday on similar appeals for running backs Nate Ilaoa and Bryan Maneafaiga, and wide receiver Ian Sample.
"This is really big for Leonard, and for our team," Warriors defensive backs coach Rich Miano said.
Peters suffered a torn knee ligament in the season-opening game against USC last year. The injury caused him to miss the rest of the 2005 season, which would have been his senior year.
Peters is considered an NFL prospect at 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds with 4.4 speed at 40 yards. He has aspirations to play professionally, but Peters has also said he'd be just as happy pursuing a career as a Polynesian dancer (which he already does as a part-time job).
"He wants to do well (in football) to satisfy himself and others, not because of money and fame," Miano said. "Unlike others his age, he's not into the material things the NFL could bring. But if he gets a season of what he's really capable of on tape, it could be huge for him in furthering his draft status."
Peters rehabbed the knee and kept himself in shape, participating in spring practice.
"Even if the appeal didn't go through, I wanted to be ready in case I could get a free-agent tryout or something," Peters said.
He led the Warriors with 120 tackles and three forced fumbles in 2004. He also intercepted four passes, including a game-saver at the end of a victory over Northwestern.
Before the injury late in the 63-17 loss to USC, Peters made five tackles and impressed Trojans running back Reggie Bush. Bush said at the end of the season the Hawaii safety was one of the hardest hitters he'd gone against.
With one long wait over, Peters eagerly anticipates the start of this season on Sept. 2 at Alabama.
"My goal for this year is to stay healthy," said Peters, who also had a knee injury in 2001 and a scary abdominal injury in 2002. "Every year as a team, our goal is to win the WAC. I think we have the kind of team this year that can do that and possibly win every game we play."
Peters brings experience to a secondary that will probably have two new starting cornerbacks (A.J. Martinez and C.J. Hawthorne emerged from spring practice as the top contenders), and either a converted inside linebacker (Brad Kalilimoku) or a newcomer at strong safety.
"We have a big senior class, but a lot of new faces, too," Peters said. "It should be a fun year."
When Peters does finally leave UH, it will be a loss for more than the Warriors football team, Miano said.
"He is a great ambassador," Miano said. "The thing about Leonard is that he works hard on the field, in the classroom and in our community.
"He never turns down community-service requests, and since he's never smoked, drank alcohol or used drugs, he's a great role model for school kids and others."