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UNH's Peters not satisfied, looks to improve on last year's success
In his first year as the starter Dontra Peters led the University of New Hampshire football team in rushing. Now he wants to be more versatile.
“Dontra right now is the No. 1 running back in our program,” said coach Sean McDonnell. “He’s a guy we want to get the ball in his hands.”
As the Wildcats’ featured back last season, the sophomore amassed 939 all-purpose yards on 160 touches, including 707 rushing on 142 carries from scrimmage.
Peters also caught 11 passes for 73 yards and returned seven kicks for another 159. His 22.7 average was second on the team only to Terrance Fox. Peters scored eight touchdowns, including a team-high seven rushing.
Among non-kickers, Peters and Fox tied for the team lead in scoring with 48 points.
“My goal for this year is to improve and build upon what I did last year,” said Peters, now a junior who was originally listed as a defensive back when he redshirted his freshman year. “As far as the team goes, just try to get better every day.”
Peters breakout game came in last year’s season opener against Central Connecticut when he ran for 197 yards on 19 attempts in his first college start and scored twice in a 33-3 win at Cowell Stadium.
That’s almost as many yards as he had in the entire 2009 season when he gained 204 on 37 carries for a 4.8 average.
Peters also had a game-high 213 all-purpose yards against CCSU. The 197 rushing yards were the high for a single game last season in the Colonial Athletic Association.
He thinks he can be even more effective this year if he gets the ball in space.
“I’m looking forward to being put out in different areas and give other players an opportunity so we’ll have more threats on the field at one time,” said Peters, who averaged 9.3 yards per carry as a high school senior. “Our offense is explosive so I feel like the more we can move players around and give different looks the better.”
Peters, who was named All-CAA third team in 2010, also rushed for 157 yards on 12 carries with one TD in a 31-24 victory at Villanova that solidified the Wildcats’ seventh straight FCS playoff berth.
He had big games against Massachusetts (98 yards, 2 TDs) in the inaugural Colonial Clash at Gillette Stadium and Lehigh (93 yards). UNH won both games handily.
“Very special player,” said senior quarterback and co-captain Kevin Decker. “He can make something out of nothing, and when something is there he can make a lot out of it. With the line he’s got in front of him (four returning starters) it could be a breakout year.”
Peters’ effectiveness late last season was compromised by an ankle injury. Back-up Chris Setian, a redshirt sophomore, should see more than the 36 carries he had last season when he gained 184 yards.
Setian averaged 5.1 yards per carry, best among Wildcat running backs.
Although Peters and Setian both averaged at least 5 yards, the team averaged only 3.5. McDonnell wants to see that number improve.
A veteran offensive line along with a deep, if inexperienced, receiving corps, should help the ground game.
“Offensively, I think we have a solid group of guys,” said Peters, a 5-foot-11, 198-pounder who hails from Annapolis, Md. “Our offensive line has been there for a couple years now, and they have that experience under their belt. Deck is an outstanding quarterback. … We just need to cut it loose and give it everything we have and I think we’ll be fine.”
Redshirt freshmen Nico Steriti and Jimmy Owens are also in the mix at running back. Owens gained 70 yards on three carries in the spring scrimmage, including a 65-yard TD run.
“You can’t do it with just one (running back),” McDonnell said. “I think we’ve got three or four guys right now that I think are going to give us a mix of what we need.”
Peters benefitted from playing behind veterans Chad Kackert and Sean Jellison. Kackert, who is now playing in the Canadian Football League, brought speed and explosiveness while Jellison was more of a power back.
“I’m trying to adapt both of them to my game,” Peters said. “They have unbelievable strength and always go 100 percent. That’s something I didn’t really understand yet as a young player. I thought I was going hard but when I got out there and you look at some of the older players in the program, I’m not doing anything compared to those guys.
“I think that’s one thing I picked up from them,” Peters added, “how to go out every play and give 100 percent.”
By AL PIKE,