Monday, August 3, 2009

UH Star Peters Crosses Over to Sevens

Eight weeks ago Leonard Peters was an American Football player possibly nearing the end of his NFL career. Today he is an international rugby player with a new lease of life and fresh ambitions in sport.

Peters was born in American Samoa and knew about rugby from an early age, but only because it was how his father filled his Saturday afternoons. Peters junior was not allowed to take up the sport and was never even taught the rules. Instead, his enviable athleticism and natural ability were successfully channelled towards the NFL.

Having made a name for himself in college Football at the University of Hawaii, Peters did well to recover from a knee injury in 2005 and win contracts with the New York Jets and, most recently, the Chicago Bears in American sport's most notorious playground.

At the age of 27 his career was at something of a crossroads, though, until he was approached by the USA Sevens coach, Al Caravelli.


"First of all I was really grateful - for any athlete trying to cross over to any sport it is very hard, no matter which sport, but I was happy that coach Al (Caravelli) took me under his wing, taught me the sport and it's been going great for me," said Peters, who has since competed for the USA after only six weeks in the game.

"Being an athlete helped a lot because obviously I could already run, jump, catch the ball, do all of that. It was learning the rules that was hard.

Cameraderie of Sevens rugby

"I was thinking that nobody was going to help me because you're competing for a spot on the team, but my eyes were really opened by how the guys would help me, teach me how to run angles and the plays.

"I was really drawn to the cameraderie on the team, really pleased that happened and I'm 100 per cent into rugby now."

Making it into Caravelli's team in such a short space of time is no mean feat. Once the whipping boys of world Sevens, the USA have developed a steely core over the last two seasons under the Argentine-born coach.

During the most recent IRB Sevens World Series, they reached two Cup quarter finals and a first ever Cup semi final with seasoned players like Todd Clever, Chris Wyles and Takudzwa Ngwenya. Although that trio has used the exposure to secure full time contracts overseas, they leave behind a healthy legacy.

Any new player coming into the squad is expected to meet the same lofty expectations, and rigorous fitness demands.

"I don't think I was prepared for all the running in Sevens," admitted Peters. "The conditioning was the biggest part for me coming over from (American) Football.

"In Football you run around for nine seconds and then you can rest for 45 seconds, whereas in rugby they told me 'we have to play for seven minutes', and I said 'seven minutes? I can play for seven minutes..'

Peters: "I was looking to the side line begging for coach to take me off"

"After the first minute I was looking towards the side line begging for coach to take me off, I was so tired. I wasn't prepared for that, but I've got used to it now."

Having impressed enough at the training camps to make the squad, Peters' international baptism came at the recent eight-team World Games Sevens tournament in Chinese Taipei. For the first time in his career, 'World' meant the world and he found himself playing against other countries.

"That was the one thing that really got me pscyched into rugby. In the NFL you play other states in the USA, not other countries, but rugby is on a global scale.

"You basically compete against the best athletes in the world and that really opened my eyes as to how many athletes are out there.

"It was such a great experience - never in my dreams did I think I'd go to China (Chinese Taipei) to play any sport and never before had I played in an arena where the opposing team was cheered as much as the home side.

"The people in the States haven't really caught on to rugby yet, not because they don't think it's a great sport but because they don't know the rules, and I think if we get the bid to go into the Olympic Games it would send it over the edge.

"I told coach Al while we were still in Chinese Taipei that I caught the bug, I've really been drawn in."

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