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Q&A: Former Gator LB Mike Peterson

Mike Peterson, a 14-year NFL veteran and University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame member, has returned to school to complete his degree in sociology and coach the Gators as an undergraduate student assistant.

Peterson, a local product from Santa Fe High School, played linebacker for Florida from 1995-1998, earning First-Team All-American honors as a senior and winning a national championship in 1996. The 37-year-old ex-Colts, Jaguars and Falcons linebacker is taking his final two classes this fall.

Peterson still maintains a permanent residence in Tampa with his wife Chantel and two sons Mike Jr., 6, and Gavin, 3.  

On Tuesday, Peterson met with the media and discussed his entrance into the coaching world, his role with the Gators and early impressions of the team. 

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Peterson wants to work his way up the coaching ranks (see: NFL) but also reminisced about his playing career and announced he hasn’t formally retired yet, saying, “No need to rush.”

“That’s the linebacker still talking," he said. "My knees and elbows might be saying something else.”

Peterson admitted it would be a tough choice if an NFL team called tomorrow and wants to be sure the door is closed all the way.

Peterson spoke very fondly of coach Will Muschamp, former Colts coach Tony Dungy and Falcons coach/former Jaguars assistant, Mike Smith. 

On returning to UF…

“It's really, really different going back to school. But I'm excited about it. You have two dreams as a kid. Not in any particular order, but play professional sports and get a degree. I'm thrilled just to be able to accomplish the latter. Awfully excited. I think my parents and my grandparents, they may be even more excited than me. It's a dream to be able to get my degree before they leave this precious place. …

"I've got to give a lot of thanks to Coach Muschamp, Mr. Foley, the academic department. All for accepting me and letting me comeback. If I could've put it on paper or dreamed about it this definitely would've been the place I want to get my coaching career started. I played here. I grew up here. I was able to come back and play close here in my professional career, so I think the kids are accepting of me and listen to me of what I have to say a little more because I've sat in those same seats they sitting in right now.”

On keen advice to kids with big dreams...

"Hard work pays off. It's a slogan I use in my football camp. It's a cliché. A lot of times people hear and go 'yeah, whatever.' But I try to instill it into the kids, my kids. You put that hard work in it's going to pay off. A lot of times we're selfish and want it to payoff tomorrow and it don't. But when you put that work in eventually it's going to pay off. That's a little slogan and cliché I live and die by.”

On Coach Muschamp…

“He's right up there with [best coaches Peterson's been around.] That was one of the things that attracted me to coming back here and helping out with the team, after meeting coach. You never know what you're going to get from a head coach. You hear this, you hear that. But then you get a chance to sit down and talk with him, speak the same language as we say, football language. And then I didn't have any doubt, I said, 'Yeah, I can definitely work with a guy like that."

On his coaching style…

"I'm more Muschamp. I'm a linebacker, so you're going to get mean. Now, I probably sit back in the meetings. I sit back and I coach guys up. But once it's time to get out on the field, I'm a fiery guy. That tough love. I believe in that. I'm going to coach you up, I'm going to coach you up. Because once I put my name on it and my stamp on it, I tell the guys, you're not representing yourself now, you're representing me. So I'm going to try to pull out the best in you."

On starting his coaching career while still playing…

“Oh yeah, oh yeah and I think I had a great opportunity to be there with Coach Smith. It was a humbling experience to be able to sit on the sidelines after being a star for so many years and being that guy. ... Coach Smith he gave me a great opportunity. A lot of times in meetings he would let me run the meeting so I would actually have to get up there and explain the defense, explain the coverage. So I'm comfortable in that role."

On coaching Florida’s young linebackers…

“Coming out of high school you figure you’re the fastest guy. You may be the biggest guy.  I try to tell them that on this level you might not be the fastest guy, and if you want to play on the next level everybody is gonna be fast. So then it falls back on your technique. What are you doing? How do you prepare yourself? Are you watching game tape? Studying the guy on the opposite side of the ball, just those little things that they take for granted. High school players probably never watched any game tape, never studied anybody. I think that’s what I will do here say, ‘Let’s watch some tape. Let’s watch what the running back on this play here.’ … I tell them to ‘Get in your playbook. Get in your playbook, learn what to do.’ And just every chance you get, take advantage of it. I try to tell the guys it's different in high school ball. High school ball you can pick the plays you want to go hard. In college ball, you just go hard, go hard, go hard because you never know when that play is going to come.”

On returning to his hometown… 

"[My family] love it. I love it. But I've always been around. I don't ring a bell when I come into town. I kind of slide in and slide out. I've been here, man. They see me. They probably see me too much 'cause I just pop up. I pop up and pop out. I purchased my mom a house a while ago, so I stay there when I come to town."

On Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning…

"A lot of times when they ask me, 'Oh, you played with Peyton? What type of person was Peyton? What type of coach was coach Dungy?’ I usually give them the spiel. [Dungy] was a great coach. Even keeled. I've played with some great coaches, and he's right up there with the best of them. Even-keeled guy, a lot like coach Smith. What you see on Monday is the same guy you're going to get on Sunday, a guy you can go talk to about anything. We can sit in here and talk about the color of those chairs over there if you want. That's what you want in a coach. We can go and talk Xs and Os. I think I was lucky to be able to play for coach Dungy and play with Peyton. … I'm 4-0 against Peyton Manning in college. I remind him of that every time I see him. He's a good guy, man. Peyton's a good guy. You see one guy in front of the camera. But when the camera's off, he's like me and you."

On any regrets of walking away without a Super Bowl ring…

“No regrets. You play the game to win a ring. I can’t take back my 14 years. I had a great career. I met some great people and made some great plays. I was chasing it. That’s all I can do. You chase it as hard as I can chase it. You do that as hard as you can and you feel that peace. You can look at yourself in the mirror and feel good about it. … So close last year. Whewwww. Ten yards. I talked to Coach Smith and we don’t say we missed it by this much. We say we missed it by 10 yards.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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