Peterson pitches in at his annual camp


Mike Peterson teaches a drill to a group of football players during the 10th annual "Bring It" Youth Football Camp, hosted by Gator Hall of Famer and NFL Veteran Mike Peterson, on Saturday at Santa Fe High School in Alachua.

Elizabeth Hamilton/Correspondent
Published: Saturday, June 29, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, June 30, 2013 at 12:03 a.m.

ALACHUA — After spending a soggy Saturday morning working through countless drills in the rain, Mike Peterson wanted the local players attending his 10th annual football camp to leave with an open mind.

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Mike Peterson teaches a drill to a group of football players during the 10th annual "Bring It" Youth Football Camp, hosted by Gator Hall of Famer and NFL Veteran Mike Peterson, on Saturday at Santa Fe High School in Alachua.

Elizabeth Hamilton/Correspondent

While Peterson once had hopes of being a professional quarterback, he explained to the more than 100 campers taking a knee on Santa Fe High School's football field how a position switch out of high school translated into a 14-year NFL career.

As a former Santa Fe signal-caller and safety, Peterson was recruited to Florida in 1995 as a linebacker, despite being an all-state performer under center.

“You've got to be humble,” Peterson said. “When I come home, I'm just Michael. ... I'm an everyday guy, so you try to tell these kids that and they become a little more accepting of what you have to say.”

Peterson, who has played the last four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, is at a familiar crossroads as an unrestricted free agent following his team's 13-3 campaign in 2012.

At 37 years old, Peterson has compiled 1,206 tackles since being selected in the second round of the 1999 NFL draft but recorded just 14 total last season. Peterson said he's weighing both his retirement and playing options before Atlanta's training camp begins on July 25.

“I don't know yet. It's kind of up in the air,” Peterson said. “I'll probably make a decision at the end of next month.”

If he does choose retirement, Peterson said he would like to explore a coaching career.

Florida coach Will Muschamp mentioned Peterson as a possible candidate to help the team this fall during a speaking engagement at the Jacksonville Gator Club on May 14. Along with being named a second-team All-American in 1998, Peterson won three SEC titles and the 1996 national championship with the Gators.

“That's the rumor,” he said. “My second career I want to get into coaching. I probably want to finish as an NFL coach or maybe in the front office somewhere, but I definitely want to get into some college coaching along the line.”

For now, Peterson is focused on his charity, the Mike Peterson Foundation, which he formed in 2004 to improve educational standards in Alachua as well as his NFL hometowns of Jacksonville and Atlanta.

Joining Peterson at this year's football camp was his brother Adrian Peterson, 33, who played eight seasons in the NFL after a stellar career at Santa Fe High.

While Mike Peterson was holding the clinic for the first time at his former high school, he said having the support of his former UF teammates like Keith Kelsey Sr. and Gerard Warren has been a long-standing tradition at the camp.

“My son (Keith Kelsey Jr.) is playing linebacker for the University of Louisville, so hard work does pay off,” said Kelsey, who played linebacker at UF from 1995-1999. “But it was just so fortunate that he was able to get some of the knowledge from myself. He speaks with Mike, Andra Davis and even Gerard Warren about the college atmosphere.”

A Union County High School graduate, Warren said he is in his fourth year helping the Mike Peterson Foundation. After previously playing defensive tackle for the New England Patriots in 2011, Warren is an unrestricted free agent like Peterson. While he was released last August, the 34-year-old said he is enjoying living in Gainesville again.

“I'm open to any interest right now, but I'm not actively seeking,” said Warren, who played 10 NFL seasons. “If someone gives me a phone call, there you go. But football has been good to me. I love the game, and the game has loved me back. It will forever be a part of my life.”

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