Driven by emotion

AMES – For now, Levi Peters doesn’t mind being known as the man who keeps the Iowa State football team loose.

Just don’t expect the haircuts and off-field antics to be Peters’ signature moments with the Cyclones. All jokes aside, the 2011 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate can still play football.

Peters has captured the attention of ISU fans everywhere this fall for his fun-loving personality and Dennis Rodman-like attitude toward his hair. The 213-pound redshirt freshman is also making a name for himself on special teams, though, and opposing teams are starting to take notice of No. 35’s game.

That is, if they don’t observe the outspoken, bushy-bearded ball of energy on the sidelines first.

”I’m just being me,” said Peters, who transferred to FDSH from Twin River Valley before his senior year. ”What you see is what you get. I have fun and I try not to take myself too seriously.

”I love everyone and I try to treat everyone the same. Life is about enjoying yourself and making the most of every opportunity you have. I like to make people happy. That’s just what I’m about.”

Peters may be light-hearted socially, but he’s all business between the lines. The former Dodger all-state wrestler, football and baseball player’s aggressive, all-out mentality caught the eye of Paul Rhoads and his assistant coaches early, and injuries opened the door for Peters to earn both practice and game time as a second-string linebacker. He’s recorded 14 tackles and recovered a fumble while appearing in all 11 of Iowa State’s contests thus far.

”I’m mainly a special-teams guy for now, and I’ve done everything I can to embrace my role and do my job there,” Peters said. ”When (freshman linebacker) Luke (Knott) got hurt, I started getting more and more practice reps with the two’s. Now I’m focused on learning the defensive gameplan as well as my special teams duties.

”It’s been a whirlwind month for me, but this is what I want. This is what I’m here for. I’ve talked a lot with (former Dodger and Cyclone standout and current FDSH assistant) Nik (Moser) about this and how to approach it. My main goal was to always be a four-year contributor in some way. Whenever my number is called for whatever reason, I’ll be ready.”

Peters’ defensive career may still be in its infant stages, but he has already emerged as a leader for the Cyclones. Senior linebacker and team captain Jeremiah George told Chris Williams of Cyclone Fanatic, ”he is easily the most liked guy on the team. When I look at him, he makes me want to play football physically and with a lot of fun.”

Off the field, Peters helps keep the locker-room mood light. His calling card in 2013 has been a running joke of hairstyles, which ranged from random, self-inflicted bald spots; to a shaved top in tribute to the program follicly-challenged janitor; to zig-zags; to carving sunglasses and a mustache into the back of his head.

Last weekend, for Iowa State’s final home game, Peters decided to turn his head into an American flag. He sported the Stars and Stripes under his helmet as a complement to the beard he’s been growing since July.

”Someone told me I should go with the American flag look. I thought it was a great idea,” Peters said. ”I mean, who doesn’t love the United States?

”It’s just my way of keeping everyone smiling and laughing.”

Peters admits he isn’t always on the giving end of the practical jokes, though.

”I’ve got a cold right now and can’t talk very well,” he admitted in a hoarse voice. ”It probably started when some of the guys decided to throw water in my beard and ice it up (last Saturday night, when temperatures dropped to near zero at Jack Trice Stadium). I had icicles hanging from my beard.

”Not the smartest thing we’ve done.”

After quarterbacking the Dodger football team to an 8-2 season and CIML conference championship, placing second at state wrestling and catching for FDSH’s state semifinal baseball squad during a decorated senior year, Peters had plenty of colleges and sports to choose from. True to form, Peters went against the grain and decided to walk on to the football team at ISU.

He hasn’t looked back since.

”I’m happy with where I’m at. Absolutely,” Peters said. ”I’ve made so many friends here that I’ll have for the rest of my life. It’s been a blast, and I intend to make the most of the rest of my career and time here at Iowa State.”

Rhoads told Williams and Cyclone Fanatic that Peters is a ”complete enjoyment to coach.”

”Levi has the right mentality when it comes to the sport of football,” Rhoads said. ”You see the toughness. You see the hustle. You see the discipline. You see the inspiration that he provides for others.”

Peters may seem care-free at first blush, but delivering results on the football field is no laughing matter.

”I love football, and I love trying to make it at the highest level,” Peters said. ”I have a great respect and appreciation for the Division I college game. It’s an incredible challenge, and that’s something I’m always up for.”