Peters picks his own path
There's a status between final-round pick and bottom-rung, rookie free-agent cannon fodder that is not bad at all. There's no big money up front, but there is big opportunity.
Leonard Peters didn't get drafted, but he considers himself more fortunate than many who did get picked by NFL teams last weekend.
The former Kahuku and University of Hawaii safety said free agency is better because he got to select where he would go. And because money is not a priority for Peters, he got what he considers a great deal with the New York Jets.
"For me, the free-agent market worked," Peters said. "I took a cut on the signing bonus, but I had people calling me, and that was better for me."
Because he was in demand compared to other free agents, Peters weighed offers from Arizona, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Tampa Bay. One of his biggest considerations in choosing the Jets is that they told him he would be the team's only new safety. He also took an instant liking to coach Eric Mangini and others on the staff.
"I got a good feeling from them. When we talked it wasn't about football. They wanted to know about my tattoos and my Hawaii background. And I know Coach (Rich Miano) got his shot there years ago when he went there."
Miano, Peters' position coach at UH, was drafted by the Jets and played the first five of his 11 NFL seasons in New York. Peters will appear at the Hawaii speed and quickness clinics, coordinated by Miano, this weekend at UH. The sessions are today and Sunday, 8:30 to 10 a.m. Call 739-5444 for information.
Miano said he thinks Peters will charm football fans in the world's largest city. Although Peters has traveled the globe as a professional Polynesian dancer, next week's mini-camp will be his first visit to New York.
"He's a country boy, but he just has to do what he's always done. He's so grounded, and people can't help liking him. I think he'll be a Pied Piper, cult hero and role model," Miano said. "I'll just tell him that in New York you're never as good as they tell you you are and you're never as bad as they tell you you are."
Peters said he plans to remain in New York through June to acclimate, work out and absorb the Jets' ways of doing things.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Peters is one of four Kahuku graduates to get a free-agent deal after last weekend's draft. Offensive linemen Tala Esera (UH), Palauni Ma Sun (Oregon) and Tavo Tupola (Utah) will be trying out for the Dolphins, Redskins and Texans.
Five other Red Raiders were on NFL rosters last year, making Kahuku one of five high schools nationwide tied for the most alumni in the league in 2006.
"It speaks for itself," Peters said. "We've had great coaches and it's a great community. Who knew a little part of an island could produce so much? We didn't have any facilities, we just did what we could do with what we had. A lot of people were willing to sacrifice a lot."
Peters said former Kahuku and UH player Louis Santiago was one of the Kahuku coaches who inspired him most.
"He's still a mentor for me and a force in my life. I just had dinner with him last night," Peters said.
Peters -- injured through most of his Warriors career -- said he is the healthiest he has been since high school. A nagging Achilles' injury that hurt his NFL Combine performance is finally behind him.
"It's the greatest feeling. It helps so much to feel free to lift the way you want, work out the way you want," Peters said. "When I was on the mainland getting ready for the combine it was all technique stuff for the tests."