Leonard Peters tracking a Trojan for Hawaii
"Warrior" is an overused term to describe fierce athletes, but it may be closer to describing Leonard Peters than a lot of other football players.
Peters is the undrafted free agent safety from Hawaii who is one of the most interesting candidate participating at this weekend's New York Jets rookie minicamp. And much — but not all — of the interesting elements come from his Polynesian heritage.
Such as his hair. One of the first things you're likely to notice about Peters in uniform is his dark mane billowing out of the back of his helmet, down to his numbers, Troy Polamalu-like.
"With a Polynesian background, it's always been a warrior-like thing to grow your hair," he said. "I don't know about comparing me to Troy because he's one of the greatest players."
Peters describes the Steelers safety as a good friend, dating to Polamalu's first Pro Bowl appearance at Aloha Stadium.
"Our high school football team [Kahuku High] actually does security for the Pro Bowl," he said. "So I was able to walk around with him and his wife for two days and pick his brain. He is a great guy and an inspiration."
Inspiration describes what Peters and a friend came up with to bring together their Hawaii teammates before games: a traditional Maori dance form called a haka.
"Because we are from Hawaii and are called the Warriors, we tried to think of something from a Polynesian background that we could do," he recalled. "So we asked some New Zealand Maori people if we could dance the haka and they said OK. And we asked some mainland players who were on the team and talked to them about it before we even danced or practiced it, and they said they were OK with it. I think it just draws us closer as a state and as a football team."
But Peters goes farther back in years and deeper into the culture than that. For instance, he's got tattoos running up his left arm and spilling over onto his chest.
"Most people walk into a tattoo parlor and point at something they like. Each symbol of my tattoo represents a different generation of my family. And I'm not done yet," he said, pointing to some new body art working its way up his right calf.
Then there is the fire knife dancing. Think baton twirling, but with flaming swords instead of batons.
"I grew up dancing, since I was in fourth grade all the way through high school," he said. "I've traveled all over the world, to Taiwan and Japan."
So, no, Peters had never been to New York before this weekend, but the potential of playing in the Big Apple is hardly going to faze him.
But will he ultimately play here? That's what the minicamps and training camp will help determine. Peters went undrafted probably due to speed and injury concerns — a Hawaii TV station pointed out damage to his ribs, shoulders, arms, spleen and knee over his college career. He's known as a big hitter, something he said began from his early participation in rugby, but sometimes the guy he hits doesn't stay hit.
The Jets' coaching staff will polish up this Polynesian gem and we'll see if Peters can cut it at the NFL level. He seems to have plenty of toughness and focus. As he said about one of his other pursuits:
"You get used to playing with the fire and the heat. No matter if you're the best fire knife dancer in the world, you're going to get burned, you get nicks and scars. But it comes with the territory, just like football."