GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Mike Peterson is back in Gainesville, back in school and back on the field at Florida.
The former Colts, Jaguars and Falcons linebacker is working as an undergraduate student assistant for coach Will Muschamp. Getting his sociology degree - he needs to complete just two classes this fall - and helping the Gators are the first steps to what he hopes will be a coaching career.
Then again, Peterson spent his last two years under Atlanta coach Mike Smith mentoring young guys.
"It was a humbling experience to sit on the sidelines after being a star for so many years and being that guy," Peterson said Tuesday. "To sit on the sidelines and to coach players up, coach Smith he gave me a great opportunity. A lot of times, 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."
Naturally, Muschamp has Peterson working with linebackers. Not only does Peterson bring 14 years of NFL experience to the sideline and meeting rooms, but his presence also frees up linebackers coach D.J. Durkin to spend more time in his new role as defensive coordinator.
"You talk to anybody who coached Mike, we all talk about he was a coach on the field and he obviously was a really good player," said Muschamp, who also has former players Terry Jackson, Chris Leak and Duke Lemmens on staff. "But he was a guy that had a cerebral approach to the game and understanding why we did things, not just how to do it, but why. ... He's doing a fabulous job. He's got a huge future in this profession."
Peterson's past was pretty solid, too.
He was a First-Team, All-Southeastern Conference selection in 1998 after leading the Gators in tackles (127). The Colts drafted him the second round in 1999 and he spent the next decade-plus racking up tackles and making plays all over the field.
Peterson has 883 career tackles, 21 1/2 sacks and 19 interceptions in 196 games.
He might not be done, either.
Peterson acknowledged Tuesday that he intentionally hasn't filed retirement paperwork with the NFL just in case a team calls him in the next couple of weeks.
"No need to rush. I just want to make sure when that door is closed, it's all the way closed," he said.
Injuries happen in training camp and the preseason, and Peterson figures some team still could find itself in need of an experienced veteran.
"If they give me a call tonight, it may be a little different," Peterson said. "But if they give me a call a week from now, I'm a loyal guy, a committed guy, and right now, I've got a commitment to the team here. So, the longer this process goes on, it's going to be harder for me to go back.
"But I think within the next couple weeks or so, I will definitely make an announcement. I just want to make sure that door is closed all the way before I jump into something else."
If everything goes as planned, though, Peterson will get his degree along with his first real coaching experience.
"It's really, really different going back to school," he said. "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."
Peterson, who grew up just a few miles outside Gainesville, only has fond memories of an NFL career that ended with him serving as a backup linebacker and special teams player. He just missed a chance to make his first Super Bowl when the San Francisco 49ers edged the Falcons 28-24 in the NFC championship game in Atlanta in January.
"No regrets," said Peterson, who has two sons, 6-year-old Michael Jr. and 3-year-old Gavin. "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."
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