SAGINAW, MI — Shonte Peoples starred at Arthur Hill High School and then at the University of Michigan, combining speed (he ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash) and size (6-foot-2, 250 pounds).
But Peoples never played in the NFL, although he had a successful career in the Canadian Football League, finally retiring after the 2003 season. In his nine-year career in the CFL, Peoples was named to three all-pro teams.
Peoples, 39, became more known for his legal mistakes and challenges to authority than for his football ability.
But after retiring from football, Peoples found the non-football world more challenging. He learned from his mistakes and the importance of an education. He graduated this spring from the University of Michigan with a degree in general studies.
He has finished an autobiography called "No Plan B" and is searching for a publisher. Peoples said that if he doesn't find a publisher within six months, he will self-publish the book.
Q: What prompted you to go back to school to get your degree at 39 years old?
Peoples: It started in 2004 when I was looking to sign a contract for another year in the CFL. I said some things to the general manager, and my career was over. I lost my condo in Saskatchewan. I lost everything. I never played football again. I played 10 years, chasing a dream. I tried everything, but nobody wanted me, mainly because of a mistake I made 20 years ago.
Q: Because of that mistake, in 1994, you were found guilty of two felony charges after firing a gun when you saw undercover police in you car. Is that in the book? Is your quote, "That's how we do things in Saginaw" in the book?
Peoples: That's one thing that's always bothered me, that I'm known for saying that. I never said that. That really hurt my mom. All I was saying was that in Saginaw at that time, police had a slow response time. So to keep the people breaking into my car there until the police came, I shot into the air. There was never intent to shoot anyone. My girlfriend was on the phone calling the police at the time. I was not saying that in Saginaw, we shoot people breaking into your car. I was saying that in Saginaw, you keep the people from running until the police get there. It was a mistake, one of many I've made in my life.
Q: Are all of your mistakes in the book?
Peoples: All of them, starting in the sixth grade. I sold weed. A lot of kids did. It's not something I wanted to do, and it wasn't something that I saw myself doing for my life. But I needed money. When you don't have resources, you do what you can to get resources. I used the money to gamble. In our family, we gambled on everything. I was in sixth grade. It was a mistake. People are still doing it to make money, just like moonshiners do it to make money. It's illegal, but you do it to put food on the table. I'm not going to judge. The Bible says he who is blameless, throw the first stone. If I throw the first stone, my house is going to end up demolished.
Q: How much help did you get from the Michigan football program in getting your degree?
Peoples: Absolutely none. I went to Lloyd Carr asking for help, but he basically just laughed me off. That always bothered me. If you're Desmond Howard or Charles Woodson, Michigan will do anything for you. But I left my blood, sweat and tears on that field too, just like they did. They didn't win the Heisman by themselves. But Michigan didn't want anything do do with me. I did talk to (U-M coach) Brady Hoke, and he was great. There might be a change in thinking at U-M, where all members of the family will be welcomed. There might be good members of the family and not-so-good members of the family, but we're still family.
Q: Where did you get the title of your book, No Plan B?
Peoples: Because I had no Plan B. And I look at kids in college, playing sports. They don't have a Plan B. They're just playing, thinking they're going to play in the NFL. And their parents are encouraging it. I ask parents in my book if they would be willing to put all the money they had into the lottery, because those are the odds ... I don't care how good you think you are. But if you put the money into an education, your odds of being successful immediately increase. It took me time to get a Plan B. Education was never a priority. I didn't know it was supposed to be. It was always sports. I didn't come from an environment that promoted an education. I tell kids now that I never saw a broke nerd. Being smart, being educated, is not uncool. People tease kids, especially black kids teasing black kids, about reading or studying or being good in school. They're told they're trying to be white. In four years, that nerd is going to be going somewhere. The guys teasing him will still be in the neighborhood.
Q: Are you disappointed with your career at U-M?
Peoples: I made mistakes. I came from a home where my step-dad would come home every day and talk about how he cussed out his boss. I didn't know any different. I thought it was OK to cuss out the people in charge, to disagree with them. How I grew up, people in charge weren't automatically given respect. They had to earn it. When I got to Michigan, it was expected that I respect the coaches. To me, though, they hadn't earned it yet. It took me time to understand that your superiors, your bosses should be respected immediately. I didn't like school, and they really pushed me. I didn't start a lot my second year there because of that. That was their punishment. I didn't know any better.
Q: Was there one thing that got you into the most trouble at Michigan?
Peoples: When I went there, it was absolutely taboo to talk about the NFL. But to me, that was my goal, to buy my mom a house to get out of the neighborhood, to put food on the table. So when people asked, I always talked about the NFL. That always got me into trouble. Now, college players are always talking about the NFL. Coach Carr didn't like that, but I didn't see it as any different than what he did. He was a college coach, and his goal was to put food on the table for his family. I was a college player, and my goal was to put food on the table for my family. It's why I went to Michigan. They were always on ABC on Saturdays. Now, it's like they promote their program as a way to get to the NFL.
Q: Wasn't there anybody you could go to for advice?
Peoples: My biggest regret is that I didn't let my mom (Jackie) be a mom. Before I started playing, she didn't know much about football. She didn't know much about college. But she knew about life. She could have helped me, but I never went to her with any of my problems.
Q: What about your high school coach, Jim Eurick?
Peoples: Coach Eurick was the first white person I ever loved. He cared about me. He tried to help me. That's what made the transition to Michigan so tough. I assumed that's how coaches were, that when I went to Michigan, there would be coaches there who cared for me like Coach Eurick did. That didn't happen. I should have gone to Coach Eurick more after I left high school. I could have. I could call him right now, and he'd try to help me. Growing up, where I grew up and with my family, you didn't like white people or trust them. My great grandmother was a slave, and that was part of our heritage. It's probably no different from white families who don't trust black people. If you grow up like that, it's how you're going to think. Coach Eurick changed that in me. When I did something dumb, he would ask me why and try to change my thinking. In college, coaches didn't talk to me like that, trying to make me a better person.
Q: Did you ever have a chance to play in the NFL?
Peoples: I had tryouts and I was in camp with Chicago one year, but I had words with the coach that weren't good. After playing in Canada, the NFL came easy to me, rushing the quarterback. In Canada, you have to play off the line, but in the NFL, you're right on the line. You can get there faster. I was having a great camp, to the point where the guy I was competing against (Sean Harris) left camp. The coach (Dave Wannstedt) started calling him and asking him to come back. That got me upset. I make a lot of mistakes, but I don't quit, and I don't accept it in my teammates or friends. When I heard the coach was begging him to come back, I started asking him why. We had words and that was that. It was a combination of what I said, my choice of words and the tone.
Q: Do you think you could have played in the NFL?
Peoples: Now I could. Back then, there were a lot of stereotypes about how tall or how big you needed to be. A defensive end had to be at least 6-3, things like that. But I was 6-2, ran a 4.45 40 and weighed 250 pounds. I killed all the drills. I would have been a combine monster. Now you have guys my size playing defensive end. Guys like LaMarr Woodley, who would not have gotten a shot back when I played because of his size. The NFL is changing. It's actually changing to look more like the CFL.
Q: Were you happy playing in the Canada?
Peoples: I loved the CFL, loved seeing Canada. It's a beautiful country. I love fishing. I went fishing in Saskatchewan from a cliff. It looked like a postcard. I looked down, and I could see a rainbow trout in the water, it was so clear. It made me a better player, a better person. I've lived in big cities and small farm towns. It's helped me with the experiences it gave me. Plus it gave me a chance to play football. I love football. I didn't play it for the money. You don't make a lot of money in the CFL. My first contract was for $22,000. My mom wanted me to come home and get a job that would pay more than that. I wanted to prove that I could do it.
Q: Why write a book?
Peoples: My daughter (KenTerra Jones) is a freshman at Delta College. I want to set the bar for her and for the people coming after me. I want them to know the mistakes I made so they don't make them. I've learned, and it's taken me a long time to learn it, that you have to have an education. In our community, there's always that jealousy of the guy with the nice car. You hate that guy. But if you want that nice car, you need an education. That's the part that too many kids don't get. I can be that example, because I've made so many mistakes, but I learned. I went back to school. I went back to Michigan, and I got my degree. I didn't get any help. When I left Michigan after football, I only needed 17 credits to graduate. When I went back, I had to start from scratch. There were classes I took that didn't exist anymore. But I did it. I finished what I started. Why? Because I finally figured out that to have options, to have a chance, you need an education.
Q: So where are you working now?
Peoples: I've been working on the book, and I'm looking for a publisher. I want to travel, promoting the book. After that, I want to own my own business, be my own boss. People are critical of me, and I've done enough to give them reasons to be critical. But even the most critical people and coaches will always admit that I worked my tail off. I have no problem with hard work. Even my critics will admit that. I persevere, and I don't quit.
Q: Will people look at this book as a way for you to get back at anybody you think wronged you in the past?
Peoples: If I wanted to do that, I could. But that's not what the book is about. It's about my life experiences. It's my story, what I went through, what I did, why I did what I did, the mistakes I made. There might be some things in there that would upset some people, but that's not the intent. It's just what happened to me so that kids have something to follow. Fans and the media expect so much from young adults, kids who are 18 or 19 or 20. They expect them to make decisions a 35 or 40-year-old person would make, but they don't have the maturity or experiences to make those decisions. This book explains why I did the things I did and, hopefully, something for kids to read who are in similar situations so they don't make the mistakes I made.
Q: Do you think the book or the degree from Michigan will change how people see you?
Peoples: I hope they see I'm not a bad guy, but I've done some bad things. I think we're all capable of that. I hope they see that I understand things now that I didn't understand when I was making some bad decisions. Most of all, I want kids who are in the same situations I was in to understand what I didn't ... that education is the best way to give yourself options, not athletics.