Head held high

Levi Peters was always a free-spirited athlete who played football with a reckless abandon. His intensity became legendary. His motor had no quit.

Yet through it all, the 2011 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate’s vibrant public persona became increasingly detached from the reality of the situation behind closed doors. Iowa State’s team captain was hurting. The chronic pain Peters experienced wasn’t getting better and wasn’t going away.

And so, on Monday, the junior linebacker from Gilmore City relayed a message to the public that his body had been sending him for quite some time – enough was enough. After pouring his heart and soul into the game of football, Peters simply had no more left to give.

”It’s been a struggle,” Peters admitted. ”I wanted to stick with it. I really did. As a (senior-to-be) and a captain, I didn’t want to let anyone down. I felt like I had a responsibility and an obligation to (the program), especially through the coaching change, to be there for my teammates.

”The harder I tried, the more I realized I was only surviving. I’ve always been a guy who goes all-out, every day, until I can’t go anymore. I’ve always met every challenge head-on. I’ve always wanted to be pushed and tested more and more. But physically, that was becoming harder and harder by the day. You want to thrive – not just survive.”

The laundry list of injuries plagued Peters throughout his career at ISU. Two knee surgeries before ever putting on a uniform. Two foot surgeries later on. A torn Achilles tendon that ended his sophomore campaign in September of 2014.

Through it all, Peters relentlessly worked his way through the ranks. He started as a walk-on, became a special teams dynamo, then earned regular playing time on the defense as a linebacker. Peters eventually secured a full-ride scholarship, and was voted captain in 2015.

His story was an inspirational lesson in perseverance. But behind the scenes, Peters said, ”I never was quite right physically.”

”My whole body is pretty screwed up, to be honest,” Peters continued. ”It’s kind of hard to describe, but it’s really been like this since my freshman year after (the foot surgery). The pain wasn’t at a constant 10 or anything, but it didn’t go away, either. I wasn’t anywhere close to healthy, which is hard for me to say, because I never wanted to make excuses for not performing up to my ability.

”I just dealt with it and kept everything to myself. In the back of my mind, I knew I could have been done a while ago. But I love my teammates and I love Iowa State so much. I worked my way through it. Once I started to feel like I could potentially be doing more harm than good being out there, though – and I couldn’t lead by example anymore – I had to let go.”

Peters was a state wrestling champion and all-state football and baseball player at Twin River Valley High School. He enrolled at Fort Dodge Senior High before his senior season in 2011. The gifted Peters made the transition to Class 4A look seamless; he was a state runner-up in wrestling, and an all-state football and baseball performer with the Dodgers as well.

Peters left Div. I baseball scholarship offers on the table to continue his football career. Without any guarantees, FDSH’s 2011 Schultz Award winner jumped into the deep end at Iowa State and willed his way into the lineup of a Big 12 program.

Despite the physical sacrifices and a precarious relationship with his body in the aftermath of his time at Iowa State, Peters insisted, ”I have absolutely no regrets.”

”The people I’ve met, the relationships I’ve built, the man I’ve become on and off the field – I wouldn’t trade any of it,” said Peters, who will continue to help the program through at least the spring in ”any way possible.”

”I’ve talked to so many teammates and (fans) on (Monday) who say that they appreciate what I’ve done for Iowa State football. That means so much to me; it’s all I ever wanted, to make a difference. I’ll never forget my time as a Cyclone football player. It’s something I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

As a player, Peters was admired. As a teammate, he was respected. As an active community member who fully grasped the responsibility of being a role model, he was praised.

Football, as Peters noted, helped mold him into the man he is today. But he refused to let that career define him as a person.

Because of that – with all due respect to the game he loves – the best days of Levi Peters’ life are still to come.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net