Will Peterson grows up

<b>PITTSBURGH - </b> Having played the position, New York Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis has some very definite ideas about cornerback play.

Those ideas, however, didn't mesh with those of Will Peterson, the right cornerback with the Giants and native of nearby Uniontown, Pa.

He clashed with Lewis shortly after Lewis left the Steelers and joined the Giants.

"At first we had a difference of opinion on how things should be done on the field in the spring," said Peterson. "I'm kind of hard-headed, but we eventually work great together. I appreciate him as a coordinator and as a person."

Peterson always has been hard-headed. It probably stems from dealing with a broken family at a young age.

Born in Uniontown, Peterson grew up in Brownsville until his parents split when he was 12 years old. That's when he began an odyssey that took him to Arizona and back; from Geibel Catholic High School to Brownsville to Laurel Highlands. He graduated from Laurel Highlands in 1997.

Peterson's college path was similar. He began at Michigan and ended up at Western Illinois. He had first-round ability but was drafted in the third round in 2001 because of questions about his character.

Peterson admitted he drank too much, fought too much and ran with too many of the wrong people. Many of them are in jail today, including his cousin, Torey Peterson, who was sentenced to life in prison last January after being convicted of first-degree murder in Brownsville.

Peterson's travels and travails "had a lot to do with my father not being there," he told the Newark Star-Ledger. "There's anger and it's trapped inside. You don't even know how to express it, but you're mad about something and that anger comes out in other ways."

His bitterness, or hard-headedness, led him to become estranged from his father. But Will Sr. is now back in his son's good graces. So is Lewis.

"Since I've been here, I've had three different D-back coaches and they teach different techniques," Peterson said over the phone this week. "Tim brought a new technique in and at first I was begrudging, trying to show him it can be done a different way. But we're all grown men. I respect his opinion and I did what he asked and it worked out well."

Peterson has bounced back from an injury-plagued 2003 season to start every game this season. He's sixth on the team with 52 tackles, second with 12 passes defensed, third with two interceptions and has forced a fumble.

"I'm having a very good season, probably the best in my pro career," he said. "I've had good seasons in the past, starting since I was a rookie. This year we have a new defense, a new head coach, new regime, and I think I'm having my best year. It's unfortunate the team is losing but personally I feel I've been having a fine season."

The high point for Peterson and the Giants occurred late in the fifth game of the season. Peterson's fourth-quarter interception of Vinny Testaverde sealed a win over the Dallas Cowboys. It improved the Giants to 4-1, but they've since skidded to 5-8 as they prepare to host the 12-1 Steelers tomorrow afternoon.

"It's definitely frustrating to put in as much work in the week, prepare as hard as we do and lose like we're losing," he said. "It's a frustrating situation."

Frustrating, but not hopeless. Listening to Peterson, it's easy to believe the Giants are a long way from quitting.

"We're just excited about playing a good team and having a chance to get a win," he said. "If you want to be the best, you gotta beat the best. If this gives us something to take out of our season for next year, fine, but right now our pride is on the line and people are questioning us. I think it's a really great chance for guys to step up and show we can win football games."

Peterson has obviously grown from the days just after his family was ripped apart and his young world turned upside down. He actually called the experience "a great thing. It opened me up to different cultures and different types of people and forced me to adapt to uncomfortable situations."

Is playing for reputed taskmaster Tom Coughlin during a losing season one of those uncomfortable situations?

"It's a tough job playing for him, but it's a tough job playing for any NFL coach," Peterson said. "The NFL is not for the weak of heart or weak of mind. He's trying to build character and build a team. He's a proven winner. I respect him. I don't always agree with him, but I do what's asked of me and hope for the best."

It's worked with his dad and his defensive coordinator.

"You know, I've always been driven to be the best, since I was young; since, really, I left Uniontown," he said.

Peterson makes it back to Fayette County two to three times a year.

"I know everybody," he said. "I played football for all three of those teams, so I know everybody from Connellsville to West Virginia. I make my rounds when I get back. Now, I know everybody's going to tune into the game. It's been circled on my calendar. I'm looking forward to having a good game against (Ben) Roethlisberger and the Steelers."

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