Who doesn’t enjoy watching a 300-pound defensive lineman, with hair flowing out of the back of his helmet, rumble down the field for a 74-yard score?
Domata Peko, defensive tackle for Michigan State, did just that during the Spartans’ 2005 battle against the Michigan Wolverines. His fourth quarter touchdown was the result of a fumble by Michigan quarterback Chad Henne. Peko’s touchdown runback sent the game into overtime.
The Spartans didn’t come out victorious that day, but it was one of Peko’s favorite football memories. Not only due to the touchdown he scored, the six tackles and a sack; but also because his parents flew in from Samoa to watch their son play in a Spartans’ uniform for the first time.
“I had a great game – a sack and a fumble recovery…74 yards to the crib. I just thank God for that and my mom and dad, that was their first game. They flew all the way form Samoa and that’s a long trip. But I really made them have a great day and they helped me out too,” Peko said.
A junior college standout, Peko transferred to Michigan State to play his junior and senior years. At 6’3, 307 pounds, Peko was exactly what the Spartans’ defense needed, an interior force that could take on multiple blockers. Don’t let his easy-going, friendly off the field demeanor fool you, on the gridiron Peko is all business.
“I’m intense, ready to play, ready to take people’s heads off. I get that from my Samoan culture, in our tradition we’re known as being warriors and that’s how I describe myself out there on the football field,” he said.
His inspired play earned Peko 2005 All-Big Ten Conference honorable mention in 2005. He ranked fifth on the Spartans with 53 tackles and added a sack, forced fumble, blocked extra point and two fumble recoveries during his senior campaign. Following the 2005 season, Peko spent his time in the gym training, in preparation for the NFL combine.
“For me it [the combine] was a great experience because I got a chance to meet some coaches, general managers, owners and defensive line coaches. I talked to a lot of teams who seemed really interested. I told them I’m ready to play. Whatever team drafts me I want to go to mini-camp and start balling right away and get into that starting position because I don’t want to sit around,” Peko said.
Peko’s older brother, Tupe, also played for Michigan State and went on to play for the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers in the NFL as an offensive lineman. After a stint in the Arena Football League, he just recently signed with the Houston Texans for the 2006 season. Tupe has served as a role model and mentor for Peko as he prepares to embark on his journey to the NFL.
“He helped me tremendously with my decision-making, I always ask him questions. He’s always been there for me and has been my role model growing up. I’m trying to follow his footsteps and make it into the league. He’s been there through the tough times and good times and always has advice for me,” Peko said.
Peko currently lives in Indiana with his brother Tupe. He was recently engaged and has a one-year-old son named Domata Jr. “That really helped me set my priorities straight and focus, just to ball out every game because I know I have a family to feed. I have a lot of responsibilities,” he said.