Family history drives Cerritos defensive tackle toward NFL future

Jim Brannon and Jim Brannon

Pete Moye’
Sports Button

Family and football go hand-in-hand for defensive tackle Kyle Peko, not just because two of his cousins have played in the NFL, but because he grew up loving football.

“When I was growing up, I loved to play football, but I never really got to play because in Pop Warner, I was always too big. I didn’t play football until high school, I just played baseball my whole life.

“Once I hit high school, I joined the football team, and I loved it.”

His cousin, Tupe Peko, an offensive lineman who played at Cerritos College before transferring to Michigan State University, was drafted in 2001 and was best known for his time with the Indianapolis Colts before retiring in 2007.

Active NFL player Domata Peko is another cousin, drafted out of Michigan State in 2006 by the Cincinnati Bengals as a defensive tackle and continues playing for them this season.

At La Habra High School, the current defensive tackle excelled as an offensive lineman, making second team All-League and All-Area Rookie of the Year as a sophomore.

Cerritos College football Head Coach Frank Mazzotta has a long history with the Peko family, coaching Kyle’s father as well as other family members.

“It’s kind of been a long history, and he’s really a great football player,” Mazzotta said.

He has known Kyle Peko since Peko’s freshman year in high school, when Peko played for Mazzotta’s son, Frank Jr., who is the head coach for La Habra.

He would enjoy more success as a junior, placing first team All-League, All-Area and All-CIF Lineman of the Year.

Last year, he was named by ESPNHS on California 2011 Football Players to Watch.

Peko said it was an honor to make the list, saying, “I was pretty excited about that.”

Mazzotta describes Peko as athletic and quiet, but he is counting on Peko to prove himself with his actions on the field down the road.

“Kyle was probably the best high school football player around,” Mazzotta said.

He said that when Peko went to a camp following high school, “they put him on defense, and he was the best defensive [player] they had from high school.”

Since arriving at Cerritos, Peko has been placed on the other end of the ball as a defensive tackle.

“He’s not quite a seasoned Defensive lineman,” Mazzotta said. “He got a few lessons (against Los Angeles Harbor College). He learned that you can’t stand around thinking you’re going to make plays. But he’s a good player.”

Mazzotta explained that freshmen have to deal with a big jump in competition from high school to junior college, because the colleges don’t just have six good players on the field at one time, they have eleven good players at once using good schemes.

“That’s part of our problem with our team right now, the leadership’s not there because we don’t have any older guys, so we have got to create that,” Mazzotta said, “Once you get that, then you create confidence.”

This young team is the result of more than 15 players receiving scholarships last year and five returners that didn’t come back. However, Mazzotta remains optimistic, saying this group is as good as any he had in a long time.

“I kind of felt that [players] like Peko, they’re going to be good. It’s just that we’re going to take our lumps a little bit here, probably until they get used to the speed and the difference in football.”

When it comes to inspiration, Peko cites his father as his role model.

“He’s always the one that’s driving me to do better, and try to go somewhere.”

His father has had to deal with kidney issues for about five years, and as a result, he has lost a lot of weight.

After struggling in the classroom in high school, Peko said he felt he let his father down, which led Peko to Cerritos to work toward what he envisions as his future in the NFL.

“That’s my main goal, to go to the NFL,” Peko said.

Peko wants to win a championship with Cerritos, but noted it won’t be possible without succeeding as a student.

He said his most important goal for this semester is to pass all his classes.

He said that playing for his favorite teams, including the University of Southern California Trojans and the Oakland Raiders, “would be a dream come true.”

Peko addressed what he expects for the season ahead, saying, “Be ready to watch us win the rest of our games this season.”