Fire, knives and hard hits: Jets rookie safety makes presence known Print
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Monday, 14 May 2007 10:25
NFL Headline News

 HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) -Leonard Peters peeled back the right sleeve of his T-shirt and proudly showed off the huge scar that covered his biceps.
The discolored skin was a product of large, flaming knives he twirled while performing as a Polynesian dancer in his native Hawaii two years ago. No big deal, according to the free agent safety who's trying to earn a spot with the New York Jets.
``There's worse,'' Peters said with a big smile. ``The skin didn't melt. If the skin melted, it would be bad.''
Peters is proving he can handle the heat of rookie minicamp, which wrapped up Monday. With his hard-hitting reputation, tattoos and long hair, Peters made his presence known while practicing with the Jets.
``Who thought a guy from a small island in Hawaii would come in and try out for the Jets?'' asked Peters, who lives in the town of Laie in Oahu. ``I am just grateful for the opportunity.''
The 25-year-old Peters was undrafted out of the University of Hawaii, where his position coach was former Jets defensive back Rich Miano. He had a successful college career, during which he made 290 tackles, seven interceptions - including two returned for touchdowns as a senior - and two sacks for the Warriors.
He missed most of the 2005 season with a knee injury, but developed a reputation for making bone-crunching tackles. Some of his greatest ``hits'' are featured in various highlight clips posted on the Internet, and he has a fan site dedicated to him. That coupled with Peters' dark, flowing hair and Samoan heritage draw instant comparisons to Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu.
``Having a Polynesian background, it has always been a warriorlike thing to grow your hair,'' said Peters, who moved to Hawaii from Samoa when he was 8. ``I don't know about comparing me to Troy Polamalu because he is one of the greatest players, but I am glad to just try to make the team.''
Peters met Polamalu when he came to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl, and considers him a good friend.
``I actually walked around with him and his wife for two days straight and got to know him and pick his mind about things,'' Peters said. ``He is a great guy and an inspiration.''
The Jets jumped at the chance to sign Peters to a free agent contract last week, and he has a realistic shot at sticking as a special teams ace, at the very least.
``When I was watching tape of Hawaii, there were a lot of big hits and he's involved with them,'' Jets coach Eric Mangini said. ``The most impressive thing about him was in sitting down with the other players, how they constantly reference back to him, his qualities and what he meant to that team. That was probably what moved me most in terms of him as a person is how many other people were talking about him, because he's a very humble guy by nature.''
You'd never guess that by the way he plays. He makes the kinds of hits on wide receivers that make you say, ``Whoa!'' as you rewind the tape so you can watch it again. That intensity was clear Saturday when Peters made a clothesline tackle on tryout Rayshaun Kizer during one-on-one drills - in what was supposed to be a no-contact session.
He seemed to turn things down a notch during one set of drills Sunday, and heard about it from special teams coach Mike Westhoff.
``If they yell at you, it means they care about you a lot,'' Peters said with a grin. ``I take it as a positive.''
Peters, who has intricate tattoos that honor his family on his left arm, shoulder and right leg, will head back home to Hawaii this week to help out at the World Fire Knife Dance Championships.
He's been Polynesian dancing since he was 12, but he won't be performing this time around. He's traveled the world as a performer, so being in New York isn't much of a culture shock.
The fire knife dance consists of twirling a long rod with blades on each end that are dipped in kerosene and lit. There's lots of practice and hand-eye coordination required - as well as some luck. Even the most experienced performers aren't immune to injuries.
``It does not matter how many times you spin the knife, the best dancers in the world get bruises and scratches from it,'' Peters said, a few nicks visible on his hands. ``It is the nature of the business, just like football.''
One thing is for sure if Peters makes the roster - he's an early favorite for the rookie talent show.
``I just go hour by hour,'' Peters said with a smile. ``If the coaches call you up into the office, then you are done. I am just trying to enjoy the experience and try my hardest.''
 

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