AMES — Monday’s team meeting ended in the usual manner.
ISU football coach Paul Rhoads bellowed, “1-2-3,” and his players shouted, “All in.”
But as the Cyclones shuffled out the doors, Rhoads blew his whistle.
Everyone stopped. The coach spoke.
“‘Oh, I almost forgot,’” special teams standout and resident tough guy Levi Peters recalled Rhoads saying. “And then he said, ‘Levi, you’re not going to come back without playing on scholarship.’”
Peters —who’d previously been defined by jarring, gif-worthy hits and his long-standing walk-on status — put his head down and took off his hat.
“And all the guys were jumping on me,” said Peters, who’s almost a month into full-throttle rehab of a ruptured right Achilles tendon. “It was a pretty good feeling.”
It was more than that.
“It’s kind of a surreal feeling,” said Peters, whose severe injury came on punt coverage during the 32-28 loss to Kansas State. “As hard as we work, to be rewarded even after playing 1 1/2 games this year, it really shows the coaches trust me and the players trust me. It was just really moving for me.”
Peters, the guy who wears his “country boy” roots on his sleeve, actually teared up.
He hunts. He fishes. He rides — and we’re not talking about a bicycle here. He’s shaved a stars-and-stripes pattern into his hair and grew out a free-flowing beard so he could see water form icicles within it.
“I don’t think I’ll ever change,” said Peters, who had 13 tackles in 2013 and expected to compete for more time at linebacker last season.
Upon the completion of the surgery that helped re-form his split Achilles in early September, he Tweeted he’d kicked the procedure’s you-know-what. And he’s still kicking. The redshirt sophomore from Gilmore City is, simply put, his own man — and rehab’s been put on notice, as well.
“It’s so fun because every day you try to push yourself to lift your heel off the ground a little higher, or put an extra band on the machine, the shuttle machine, and do a calf raise,” Peters said. “So I think I’m right on schedule or ahead of schedule for recovery, so it’s really exciting.”
Peters said the doctor likened the state of his Achilles pre-surgery to “two meat patties,” which were promptly tied and stitched together. Peters wore a splint early on before donning a cast and then a boot.
Two weeks after the surgery and just into the lengthy cast-bearing phase, Peters was working out three-fourths of his body — and hard.
“I couldn’t stay out of the weight room,” he said. “I’ve gained about 15 pounds of good weight and I’m working with (assistant strength and conditioning coach) Adam Potts. He’s been running the injured group, which unfortunately got a lot bigger this year as the year went on. But we’ve trained really hard; we train five days a week, sometimes six. We would do all upper body and single leg.We did a lot of single leg stuff. I even worked a little bit with my bad leg. I wanted to keep a little muscle on that.”
Of course, he did. Peters plans to attack the offseason with alacrity, as usual, with the same goal — increased regular playing time — in the forefront of his mind.
“I want to play spring ball so bad because I want to compete for that (weak-side linebacker) spot. (Before) this injury, I just think I finally could have gotten my chance to be out there and that’s all I wanted was a chance to play linebacker and just see what I could do. And I finally saw that chance and to get hurt; the way it happened was devastating. It just makes me so hungry for next season. I just cannot wait for that first time I get to go hit someone. I just cannot wait.”