New UL linebacker Peters ready to shine
The first time UL came calling, Otha Peters had his eyes on a bigger prize. The lure of SEC football simply seemed brighter than that of the Sun Belt Conference.
So Peters – much to the chagrin of fans of Tennessee, to which he had previously committed – signed with Arkansas in 2012.
At the time, the decision seemed to make total sense.
“That’s what it was – just SEC football,” Peters said. “I had hated LSU, and Arkansas was rated, like, Top 5 at the moment (after the end of the 2011 season).”
After two sub-.500 seasons spent playing for the Razorbacks, however, the inside linebacker from Covington High north of New Orleans wanted out.
“I knew in my gut that I needed to leave – go somewhere new,” he said. “It was hard – not for the coaches’ part, but for my friends, my good friends I had there, and leaving them.
“But it was really wasn’t that hard, because I knew at the end of the day this (UL) is where I should have been from the start.”
After sitting out last season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules, Peters is poised to play a big part in a Ragin’ Cajun defense now being coordinated by former Auburn cornerbacks coach and ex-Mississippi State defensive backs coach Melvin Smith, with former Southeastern Louisiana head coach Mike Lucas as his position coach.
He went into preseason training camp, which opened earlier this week, penciled in No. 1 at the Will inside linebacker spot ahead of Breaux Bridge High product Tyren Alexander and will spend the next few weeks before UL’s season-opener at Kentucky trying to hold onto the job.
He’s part of a corps of inside linebackers that in addition to Alexander also includes projected Mike (play-calling) starter Tre’maine Lightfoot, backup T.J. Posey and ex-LSU redshirt Trey Grainer.
“I hope it’s gonna be a big role. I hope Otha’s gonna be in on a lot of tackles. You know, he’s been successful in the SEC,” said UL coach Mark Hudspeth, called Peters “a physical player” who “loves to hit.”
Coming out of Covington, where he had 153 total tackles as a senior and 247Sports.com had him ranked as the No. 5 overall prospect in Louisiana and the No. 13 outsider linebacker recruit in the nation, Peters was named West Defensive MVP and national Linebacker of the Year at the high school Offense-Defense All-American Bowl played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
He began playing early at Arkansas, started the final three games of his freshman season there in 2012 and was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team after finishing with 32 total tackles.
A broken arm delayed the start of his sophomore year, causing him to miss a 2013-opening home win over UL and other games, but he still wound up playing seven games that year.
But he was No. 2 on the depth chart at middle linebacker when camp for the Razorbacks opened in 2014. He was not interested in a potential move to fullback. And the coaching staff at Arkansas, now led by ex-Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, is not the same one in place when he was a freshman.
So Peters chose to leave.
Tennessee was not an option – Arkansas, he suggested, would not release him from his scholarship to go there – or, truth be told, even a consideration.
Instead, he was content right away with his decision to play Sun Belt football for a UL program now coming off four straight 9-4 seasons and four straight New Orleans Bowl wins.
“I really just wanted to come closer to home – because being in the SEC, and competing with them,” Peters said, “I feel like I have the talent, so I didn’t have to convince anybody by me going anywhere else.
“Because I could have gone to bigger places than this. But I just … feel like I’ve got the talent, I’ve got what it takes to go to the next level (the NFL); why not come home and ball with some of my homeboys like Al (Riles) and Jamal (Robinson) and people I’ve been knowing for years? That played a big factor in me leaving and coming here.”
Peters has known Riles, UL’s Covington-born starting slot receiver from Lakeshore High, since they were youngsters. Robinson, the Cajuns’ standout wide receiver from Salmen High in Slidell, played high school ball in the area.
“Me and O.P. (have) a bond that can’t be broken,” said Riles, who recalls being teammates with Peters for the Raiders, the Cowboys, the Vikings and, their favorite, the Chargers, in the Covington Recreation Department’s youth football league.
“We picked up our first football together, since we were 6 (years old). We played on the same team together all the way up to junior high, and I switched to the Mandeville district and we played against each other in high school.
“We grew up together, and we’ve done everything together,” Riles added, “so when he was looking to transfer he gave me a call last year during camp and I told him, ‘This is the best place you want to be; you want to be close to home, to family, you want to ball with your bro’.’ ”
Transferring, however, meant a season with no games for Peters.
He was able to get noticed, though.
In fact, Hudspeth suggested Peters proved quite difficult for UL’s offense to deal with while playing on the Cajun scout team last season.
“That’s a good sign. … I hope that translates over,” Hudspeth said.
In hindsight, the year off really was fruitful for Peters.
“I didn’t redshirt at Arkansas,” he said, “so it took me a year to get bigger and stronger and faster. I just worked every day for this season.”
Still, the transition time has been trying.
“It was real hard for me,” Peters said, “seeing my friends out there making plays, having a good season, winning games – or, when they’re in trouble – knowing that I could be out there helping a lot, but not being able to.
“Then, we went to the bowl game (a win over Nevada last December in New Orleans). Seeing that experience, I just wish I could have been a part of it. But, then again, it humbled me also.”
Smith, UL’s new defensive coordinator, sees that.
He also sees a linebacker itching to play again, and isn’t shy about letting Peters know it.
“Body language is big to me. I’m a body-language guy. Body language don’t lie,” Smith said. “So if I like the way your body language is looking, I’ll tell you. And if there’s something about your demeanor, your behavior, that I don’t like, I let ’em know.
“Otha? His every-day demeanor shows me he’s that he’s ready to get on the field and play some ball. And I’m ready for him to do it.”
Peters is ready too.
He has been, for a year now, at a place that just wasn’t in the cards a few seasons back.
“Me being away for two years, and them still opening their arms to me and telling me that I’ve still got a home there – it meant a lot to me, and my Mom (Sheila Peters),” Peters said, “because of having my family actually (able to) see me play instead of just watching on TV.
“I really appreciate what Coach Hud (Hudspeth) and the coaching staff did for me, and I’m gonna repay them (with) my work for this upcoming season.”