Domata Peko Almost Bypassed Football on his Path to the NFL


December 23, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle

Domata Peko

(94) reacts after a defensive stop against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter at Heinz Field. The Cincinnati Bengals won 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko recently sat down for an interview with ESPN as part of their “My Path to the Pros” series. It chronicles the journeys of several NFL players and other professional athletes and how they’re now living out their dreams of playing in the best football league in the world.

Peko is of Samoan descent, and spent his childhood in Los Angeles before moving to Pago Pago, American Samoa.

Here, Peko was an outstanding athlete in high school, as he played beach volleyball, basketball and rugby, but football wasn’t something that appeared to be in his future:

"In high school, at least up until my senior year, I played beach volleyball, basketball and rugby. But then, before my senior year, I thought I’d give football another try. I was certainly big enough. So I put basketball and rugby aside to focus on football, and I was good right away. I remember one drill in particular. One other player, one of the best players on the team, called me out during one of our hitting drills. He wanted to go against me, and he called me out in front of everyone. But I ran him over. That’s when I knew I was gifted. That season made me want to pursue the NFL, just to see if I could make it. I made the All-Star team in Samoa after playing only one year, and I was playing all sorts of positions — tight end, fullback, kicker, punter. The coaches noticed that I was doing really well, but I didn’t get any offers. I got a call from a junior college in California called College of the Canyons, and I went there for two years before Michigan State gave me a scholarship."

After a great career at Michigan State, Peko was drafted by the Bengals in the fourth round (123rd overall) of the 2006 NFL Draft. Since then, he’s been one of the better nose-tackles in the NFL, and has consistently anchored one of the league’s top defenses. This past season, he led the defensive line in tackles (80), his fourth time to lead line in last five seasons.

In 2008, the Bengals signed Peko to a five-year extension through the 2014 season worth $29.3 million. He also has one of the greatest highlights ever in the Pittsburgh Steelers/Cincinnati Bengals rivalry:

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