Peoples running on automatic
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Seven running backs have carried the ball in games for Hawaii this season.
Khevin Peoples is not among them.
But the junior's carries this month in practice may be among the most important for the Warriors' hopes to beat Georgia in the Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl and finish 13-0. Peoples is the primary scout team running back trying to give the UH defense a good look as it prepares for UGA freshman Knowshon Moreno's speed and power.
SEC football is part of Peoples' DNA; his father was George Peoples, a star at Auburn who played four seasons in the NFL.
"I played against his Dad," said UH coach June Jones, a former Atlanta Falcons quarterback. "He was a good player, an inside-running guy, really good player."
George Peoples died a few months before Khevin traveled to Hawaii from Tampa, Fla., and reported to UH as a freshman. But Khevin will have several relatives from Alabama and Florida (including his mother, Regina, a former Auburn track star) at the Superdome.
Position logjams and injuries have kept Peoples off the playing field. But he's proven his worth in other ways, such as assisting with videotaping games.
"I had to take a back seat, but I was still able to help out," Peoples said.
Coaches and players admire his perseverance.
"His spirits are high and he never gives in and never gives up," safety Desmond Thomas said. "I think before his time is up he's going to get a good shot."
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As an Auburn running back in the early 1980s, George Peoples did his best to beat the powerful competition in the SEC.
Now his son is trying to do the same for Hawaii, in an indirect but important way.
Khevin Peoples is a scout team running back for the Warriors. At practice yesterday for the Sugar Bowl, he impersonated Knowshon Moreno -- the Dawgs' talented and precocious running back, UGA's best freshman ball carrier since Herschel Walker.
Of course, Peoples would rather have a starring role as the 10th-ranked Warriors (12-0) go up against No. 4 Georgia (10-2) in the Jan. 1 BCS bowl game at the Superdome in New Orleans. Both of his parents (mother Regina was an Auburn track star) thrived in competition against the Bulldogs and other SEC schools.
But the junior from Tampa, Fla., knows his task is important, though relatively thankless.
"It's a job that I was given. I'm not gonna turn my nose up at anything, be it scout team or whatever it is," Peoples said. "An opportunity like this, it really feels good. I'm physically getting back into what I used to know playing football in the South. I was brought up with the I-formation and running straight at you. Spreading out, four recievers, I really wasn't brought up with, it wasn't shown to me."
Peoples said he saw Moreno play enough this season to try to simulate his style for the UH defense.
"He's a cutback and a straightforward (runner). When I saw him he reminded me of Cadillac Williams. They're both straight power backs and if they need to cut, they cut. Moreso, more than anything, if you're in the way, tough luck. It's gonna be you or him, and he's gonna pretty much make damn sure it's you," Peoples said.
"Southeastern Conference football, just run the ball. It's that old-school, get down in the trenches between the tackles and do it."
Starting free safety Desmond Thomas said the UH defenders appreciate his efforts.
"Khevin Peoples, he makes our defense play up every day. We can't take a day off. We can't go half-speed on any plays. When Khevin has the ball, after he gets hit he's going to continue to run. It gets irritating at times, but he's making us such a better defense," Thomas said. "Great preparation. He's running hard, and we know the Georgia backs are going to run hard. Our scout teams have done a great job all season, and they deserve a lot of credit."
George Peoples, who went on to play in the NFL after starring at Auburn, died just a few months before Khevin came to Hawaii in 2004.
Khevin has adjusted to his personal loss, as well as to the island culture.
He's also had to get used to sparse playing time at outside linebacker and then at running back.
"We've tried to find an opportunity to find a place for him to play," coach June Jones said. "He works hard and does what he's supposed to do and perseveres. Hopefully we'll have an opportunity to get him on the field before he gets out of here. But right now his role is to help us get ready."
A lower back strain that kept him off the field much of this season didn't help. Typical to his style, though, Peoples found a way to help the team while injured. He assisted with videotaping during games.
"I wasn't suiting up and I didn't want to just be sitting in the stands," Peoples said. "I wanted to contribute and help out in some way."
Practices remain closed to fans, but Jones and the UH marketing and compliance departments are still trying to arrange a fan/player interaction event for some time this week before the team leaves on Christmas for New Orleans.
Such an event would likely be at Cooke Field.
Backup defensive end Victor Clore's right arm was in a sling yesterday. He said he injured his shoulder lifting weights and may not be able to play in the Sugar Bowl.
Thomas returned to full duty yesterday. He suffered a hip pointer against Washington on Dec. 1.
Senior linebacker Brad Kalilimoku was out yesterday with a tight hamstring. He's expected back some time this week.
Starting slotbacks Davone Bess and Ryan Grice-Mullins continued to recover from assorted bumps and bruises accumulated over the course of the season.
"We gotta get the rest of the guys out there. If you don't practice you don't play good," Jones said. "They'll be ready, but you've got to push through some stuff."