Peterson epitomizes team player

As Julian Peterson's repertoire keeps expanding, his resume just keeps growing. The fourth-year linebacker does it all on the field for the Niners, and this year Peterson's teammates have recognized that his contributions to all things 49er go well beyond just what he does between the lines.

Peterson was named the winner of the 2003 Len Eshmont award Wednesday in a vote by his teammates. It's the 49ers' most prestigious annual honor, given each year since 1957 to the team's most inspirational and courageous player.

Given his standout performance and growing reputation as a stand-up guy, it's no surprise to anyone that Peterson is the choice for the team's top honor.

Nobody, that is, except maybe Peterson.

"It was a shock to me, honestly," Peterson said. "I would never have expected that. I never thought I'd inspired that many people on our team. I know I struck a few people that way, but I never thought it would be a whole team reaction like that."

Peterson shouldn't have been so surprised. He has exemplified - and personified - inspiration and courage on and off the field during San Francisco's roller coaster 6-8 season.

"Every single day he brings a great attitude to this team," Niners quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "He's showcased everything this year with his talents, with just a great personality, great attitude and great love for the game. He spreads that love." Peterson's unique abilities have been spread throughout the San Francisco defense, which moves him around and utilizes his speed and playmaking ability at several positions. He became the first player since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to play four positions in a game when the Niners played at Dallas last year.

Peterson enters Sunday's game in Philadelphia second on the team in tackles (133), sacks (5.5) and passes defensed (12). He also has three forced fumbles, two interceptions and one fumble recovery.

His projected all-around numbers would be the most productive in multiple categories for a defender in San Francisco's 58-year history.

"Obviously, he's been our best overall player," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said. "He's a playmaker in all aspects, at linebacker when he rushes, (in) pass coverage. He's a fiery guy that's got a lot of energy and gets people into the game."

Peterson has become a much more demonstrative presence on the team this season after earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl last year. His play speaks for itself, but Peterson also has become an emotional leader on San Francisco's young and rising defense.

"It's an honor for my teammates to think so highly of me, that I inspired them," Peterson said. "I think it's just my emotion to the game. I'm just kind of, like, all out to do what I can for the team. I take the game seriously, but I do go out there and have my fun. I enjoy being out there with the fellows, just trying to get something accomplished being a dominating defense."

At 25, Peterson is the second-youngest player to win the award.

"This is a high award on this team," Peterson said. "You just don't give that just to anybody. I recognize that. I'm honored and privileged to be in that position, to be part of that tradition."

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