Cody Peterson (right) didn't become a starter until the… (Evan Habeeb, US PRESSWIRE )
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo calls starting middle linebacker Cody Peterson "soft spoken." Inside linebackers coach Steve Johns refers to the senior as "quiet." Peterson describes himself as "introverted."
Senior wide receiver Matt Aiken paints a different picture of his teammate and co-captain.
"He's got a tough-guy mentality, and he definitely brings that every day to practice," Aiken said last week. "He comes ready to play every day, just 100 percent every practice. Even yesterday, he was getting into a fight at practice with one of our younger guys. I think that's definitely one of the biggest things he brings to the team."
Peterson, who will lead the Midshipmen (7-4) into their 114th meeting with Army (3-8) Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, said he prefers to lead by example.
"I'm a little bit more introverted by nature," he said. "So [leadership] was something for me that was kind of a challenge. But I've done a fine job of it this year. I've come out of my shell, and I've been able to call guys out when I need to."
Asked to elaborate on what he has said, a sly smile crept across Peterson's face before he replied, "If I think they're slacking a little bit or they're not focused, I'll firmly tell them to focus and do your job."
No one would accuse Peterson of not doing his job. After a 2012 season in which he made 67 tackles in 13 games (eight starts), he has flourished in his first year as a full-time starter.
Peterson ranks second in the Football Bowl Subdivision in average solo tackles per game (7.6), and he's tied for second in total solo tackles (84). He ranks fourth in the country in average tackles (11.3) and is tied for 11th in total stops (124).
Niumatalolo said Peterson exemplifies the qualities of a Naval officer and football player.
"He doesn't come to practice saying, 'I'm a captain, I'm a senior, let me jog around here,'" Niumatalolo said. "He works harder than our freshman. So if you're a young guy and you're trying to get on the field at any position, you're like, 'Here's our team leader and that's how he practices?' So it makes you feel like you can't goof around, you can't slack because here are the leaders that have set the standard of this is how we work here. So I think for him, that's the big thing. He's led by example."
For a time, Peterson was a player without a position. An athlete who played basketball and did track and field at AG West Black Hills High School in Tumwater, Wash., Peterson was an All-State first-team selection at running back and joined Navy as a fullback.
But the 6-foot-3, 228-pound Peterson was too tall and not heavy enough to line up at fullback in the Midshipmen's triple-option offense. He moved to outside linebacker, but injuries impeded his development there. In the spring of 2012, he made the switch to inside linebacker and finally found his home.
Johns, who doubles as the team's special teams coordinator, recruited Peterson out of high school and pegged him as linebacker material.
"I knew he was tough and athletic, and he just didn't seem to fit anywhere else," Johns said. "So I said I'll take him. He wasn't immediately very good, but that's because we were running against option stuff all the time. But once we started running against more traditional offenses, where it was a little more normal with run reads, that toughness started to show through."
Peterson acknowledged that there were times when he questioned whether he would ever see the football field in a meaningful role.
"I'd love to say that I was gung-ho the whole time and positive, but there were some times when you get a little discouraged," he said. "But I just stayed the course, I trusted my coaches and my teammates, and I kept working and it ended up working out for me."
Last fall, Peterson was a reserve through the first five games before supplanting senior Brye French as a starter. Peterson said he surprised himself with a six-tackle effort in a 31-30 win over Indiana last year.
"Things just kind of slowed down for me," recalled Peterson, who was poked in the eye in the third quarter and had to get four stitches before finishing the game. "Indiana's pretty tough, they're a good team. They have big boys on the offensive line, and I was smacking these guys and blasting them back, and I thought, 'These guys aren't so tough, I can do this.' I had a pretty good game that day. … I felt like I made a statement to myself and to my team about what Navy football is about."
Peterson made 14 tackles in Navy's 17-13 win over Army last year.
In the offseason, Peterson and Aiken were voted co-captains by their teammates, which the academy's media guide touts as "the highest honor a Navy football player can receive."
Peterson certainly felt that way.
"I've embraced it fully," he said. "It's been a lot of fun. Our senior group on the team, we're a bunch of really close guys. The fact that they all voted for me, I was really honored by that, and it's just worked out. It's fallen into place."
Peterson is enjoying his final moments in his Navy uniform. There is still the matter of the Army game and the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 30 in Fort Worth, Texas, but Peterson — who plans on becoming a surface warfare officer after his graduation this spring — is savoring his experience.
"Even before I came to the Naval Academy, I was sold when I saw them run out with the American flag," he said. "Now that I'm a part of that, I have a huge sense of pride."