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Peters puts Rams' goals above his own

August 25, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Dan Peters is starting to understand how guys like Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. feel.

As the free safety for the Shepherd University football team, in 2005 Peters became the face of the Rams defense - the guy at the controls - while the rest of the group acted like a pit crew to keep him on track.

Peters revved the defense's engine, running laps around opponents by leading all NCAA Division II players with 12 interceptions, which was good enough to land him in the winner's circle that was the All-West Virginia Conference first team and a number of all-American and national individual honors.

But basically, Peters recognizes that he was the benefactor of circumstances as Shepherd is poised to start the 2006 season on Saturday at Millersville. In fact, he wouldn't be holding the cups if it wasn't for the rest of the boys toiling in the 'hood.

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"We had a top-five rushing defense in the nation," Peters said recently at Shepherd's annual media day. "Last year, our line was dominant. They were stopping (opponents) and made them throw the ball. When they threw the ball, I'd get interceptions and that's how I got the stats. I'd just be sitting back there and waiting."

Peters was a right-place-right-time kind of guy last season. The defense allowed averages of 97 yards rushing and 11.8 points per game. With Shepherd scoring at a 34.8-point clip, many opponents were in catch-up mode, meaning a lot of passes down the middle, looking for the big play.

That was Peters' neighborhood. Peters made a name for himself by becoming the ultimate middle man, playing center field on pass coverage and roaming to the ball.

It sets the bar high for an encore in 2006.

Peters is one of seven returning defensive starters for the Rams, giving an indication that the Rams might be able to duplicate last year's 11-1 season. Only this time, the goal is to do it without the season-ending playoff loss in the first round.

"An encore? That's tough to answer," Peters said. "I want to play well, and if the interceptions come, great. The key is to win games. I want to play at a high level."

The beauty of Peters' position is that he is a true middle man. He's not always covering a receiver as much as he's freelancing in the secondary, watching the quarterback's eyes looking for a key to break to where the ball is going.

Because he's never in the same place all the time, it's tough for teams to plan an attack to throw away from Peters.

He may have a bull's-eye on his chest, but it doesn't seem to stick.

"If you look at this team, the bulls-eye is bigger and it's bigger than it was two years ago," Peters said. "I don't really know if there is a bulls-eye there, but I think teams are more conscience about throwing it up. There are a lot of guys back there who can get interceptions, but they have a tough time throwing away from me because I'm playing free safety."

Peters would need another comparable season to become Shepherd's all-time interceptions leader. He enters the season with 18, 11 behind the mark set in 1991-94 by Jason Johnson.

As the middle man, Peters would rather be the center of attention for something else.

"With this defense, when the other team has to make a play, they have to go down the middle. I'm usually just standing back there looking for the ball," Peters said. "The key is to win and get back to the playoffs. ... The interceptions, they'll come."

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