ANNAPOLIS — Cody Peterson didn’t settle in at a position in his first two years at Navy. And injury problems arose wherever he moved.
One thing he never had trouble with was making an impression during his days on the scout team.
“He was one of the guys no one liked because he always went so hard, which is actually a good thing because you get a great look,” linebacker Brye French said.
Now he’s providing one in games after a productive and healthy junior season.
Peterson likely will make his eighth consecutive start Saturday when the Midshipmen (8-4) meet Arizona State (7-5) in the Fight Hunger Bowl at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, a run that’s impressed coaches and figures to make Peterson one of the pivotal figures on Navy’s defense next season.
Not that he isn’t valuable now, especially coming off a career-best 14-tackle performance against Army. Peterson’s breakout season came after stints at fullback (where his 6-foot-3 frame was a little long) and outside linebacker, and after a meniscus injury as a freshman and shoulder surgery that cost him the second half of his sophomore season.
“I had some issues with injuries and never really had a chance to prove myself,” Peterson said. “But just this last year, they moved me to inside, and I stayed healthy and was able to excel.”
There were signs in the spring Peterson could play an important role for the Mids. He once was awkward and still figuring out how to fit into Navy’s defense, but Peterson’s speed and relentlessness became even more valuable as he grew more accustomed to his place in the scheme.
A month into the season, it became clear to coach Ken Niumatalolo the Mids needed to find ways to use Peterson more. He entered the lineup in early October, nudging French out of a starting spot. Navy ultimately used French, Peterson and Matt Warrick as a three-man rotation at the two inside linebacker positions.
“It’s hard, because Brye is one of our better players, too, but his production level — you couldn’t help but notice it on tape,” Niumatalolo said. “It came to a point where we knew we had to play him more, but they all play the same amount anyway.”
And the first start? It came against Air Force, and Peterson promptly pieced together a 10-tackle performance in the 28-21 overtime defeat of the Falcons.
“It meant a lot because it was such a huge game, and I really wanted to make a statement,” Peterson said.
He’s done so ever since, providing the sort of versatility defensive coordinator Buddy Green covets in linebackers. Peterson possesses the size necessary to play inside or outside, if necessary, but also the speed and flexibility to defend underneath passing routes.
Then there’s the on-field approach that was there all along.
“He’s an animal on the field,” French said. “He’s a stud and sets a great example for the guys. He’s a junior, but I consider him one of the leaders on the team.”