[ UH FOOTBALL ]
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM|
Safety Leonard Peters suffered a knee injury and redshirted his first year at UH. He bruised his spleen and kidney last season.
for first injury-free
year at UH
Miano says the sky is the limit
for the safety if he can stay healthy
Leonard Peters' knack for slipping past blockers on his way to smacking a ball carrier has prompted Hawaii football coaches to rave about his potential since he joined the Warriors two years ago.
Sidestepping the injury bug has proved to be a tougher task during Peters' UH career.
A knee injury forced the safety to redshirt his first season in Manoa. Last year, he suffered a bruised spleen and kidney in a collision with a teammate during two-a-days and spent several anxious days in the hospital.
But the setbacks have done little to dampen Peters' passion for the game.
"He loves football and he's the kind of guy where the doctors are going to have to tell him he can't play physically, because he's going to be out there," UH defensive backs coach Rich Miano said. "He just has so much fun on the field and off the field and being part of a team."
Now a sophomore, Peters is back at full speed this summer and is again competing for a starting job at free safety.
On the field, Peters possesses the range and quickness to cover receivers deep in the secondary and the size (6-foot-1 and 181 pounds) to pop a running back at the line of scrimmage.
"He has as much ability as anybody I've ever coached as far as speed, size, the things the NFL looks for," Miano said. "He's getting smarter and he's making the right decisions. The sky's the limit for that kid."
On the sidelines, Peters' wit keeps the mood light when the wear of two-a-days can weigh down the players' spirits. At Saturday's scrimmage, he was spotted handing out cups of water in the offense's huddle long after the defensive starters had called it a day.
"It's all about fun," Peters said after a recent practice session. "To me it's fun first. If you're not having fun playing football you shouldn't be out here. You can always take care of business, but it's good to have fun too."
"He knows how to wake up the other players, knows how to have fun," said fellow safety Hyrum Peters. "That's the best thing about our team, we all know how to have fun and just make people laugh and just enjoy this camp."
While Leonard and Hyrum Peters, who are distant relatives by marriage, enjoy cracking up their teammates, Leonard's injury last summer was no laughing matter.
Following an all-state senior season at Kahuku, Peters was on his way to earning a starting spot as a redshirt freshman when a seemingly routine hit sent him to the hospital with internal bleeding in his midsection.
"When I got hit on that play, I didn't know anything was wrong until I got into the locker room," he said.
Peters' ordeal was an eye-opener for his teammates and coaches.
"It was one of those things where football all of a sudden means nothing," Miano said. "I remember the staff and the DBs going to visit him at the hospital and understanding the severity of the problem when they have to take blood out every hour on the hour. ... You just realize all of a sudden how inconsequential this game is and how important the health of somebody you really care about is."
The injury forced the Warriors to make some personnel adjustments and the changes actually helped cultivate the depth the defense now enjoys.
Hyrum Peters moved from cornerback to strong safety and David Gilmore emerged as a steady performer as a starter at free safety for most of last season.
With Leonard Peters back in the rotation at free safety and sophomore Lono Manners making a strong push up the depth chart, the competition for playing time in the secondary has picked up during this year's camp.
"We have a lot of good defensive backs and that's really going to help us out in the long run," Gilmore said. "Everyone's pulling for one another. At the same time it's competition, too.
"Leonard's a great player and he's a good guy too and I wish the best for him. We're one team, so there's no rooting against the other guys."
Despite the potential logjam, Miano said all of the UH safeties will have ample opportunities to contribute this season.
"We play enough nickel and dime packages that they're all going to play a lot and they're all going to make plays," Miano said.
Peters recovered from his injury quickly enough to play in nine games last year. He got the first start of his career against San Diego State, registering a career-high eight tackles in that game and finishing the season with 25 stops.
He said there are no lingering effects of the injuries and his offseason workouts included a program to strengthen his abdominal muscles to better protect the area. And although he's back at full strength, memories of the injury continue to remind Peters of how quickly things can change.
"I appreciate every day I wake up now," Peters said. "Now I know on any snap of the ball you can get hurt, so I cherish every moment."