The Harvest Bowl – a game defined by rivalry.
Nearly a decade ago, in the inaugural clash under the lights of Joe Debely Stadium between the Bulldogs and Pride, sons of Turlock were pitted against each other for the first time at the high school level. Old tradition vs. new tradition: that was the dichotomy as Tom Tyler led Turlock High against Larry Nigro and Pitman High.
Ten cross-town matchups later and Tyler is back for his third Harvest Bowl as head coach, except this time he’ll be on Pitman’s sideline leading the Pride against his former Bulldogs.
On the other side of the field, James Peterson will stand with his alma mater in his fifth Harvest Bowl as Turlock’s head coach.
The energy and stakes of the game will be the same as they have always been – high. Players on both teams, most of whom are either friends or acquaintances, will meet on the turf and wage war in pursuit of victory. But unlike in years past, the players won’t be the only ones forced to compete against people they’ve grown with and respect.
For the first time in the series’ history, the head coaches will be in the same boat.
Mentor vs. Pupil
Before Pitman’s foundations were set, back when Turlock’s rivalry game was with Ceres High, Peterson and Tyler shared the then-grass field of Joe Debely Stadium as player and coach, respectively. With a specialty in the line, Tyler spent countless hours, days, and months working with Peterson to make him the best defensive and offensive tackle he could. Peterson’s work ethic and ability left an impression on his coach.
“He always did whatever he could to be the best he could be and help out the team, and he was very physical; he liked to hit,” Tyler recalled of Peterson. “He was tenacious and hard-working. He cared a lot and was a great team player. That’s why he’s a coach.”
Likewise, as Peterson completed his varsity career with the Bulldogs in 1999, he walked away from high school football with lasting respect for Tyler.
“As a coach, everybody looked up to him like he was the guy. As a player he taught me what it was to be a tough guy who battles through all adversity,” Peterson said. “When you got some adversity you’re going to push through it rather than cower away from it, and Tom really taught us that in practices and during game prep.”
After graduating, Peterson went on to play football at California State University, Sacramento while Tyler remained at Turlock. Unbeknownst to both men, however, they would soon be reunited, albeit in different capacities, as Peterson returned to the world of high school football to once again learn from Tyler.
It was 2003 when Peterson joined Tyler’s coaching staff. Injury had sidelined his collegiate career in Sacramento and a new chapter was about to begin for the former Bulldog. As the team’s defensive line assistant coach, Peterson joined Tyler on a CCC championship run, and a new door was opened.
“I had a blast with it and that’s what sprung me to get into my career that I’m in now, teaching and coaching,” Peterson said. “I was in a transition state in my life. It focused me; I found out when I started coaching that I had a drive to do this and a passion to teach others.”
While Peterson may have been surprised by his new-found passion for coaching, Tyler was not.
“When you know someone from that perspective, when you know them as a player, you get an idea of what kind of coach they’ll be. Pete’s always been one of those guys that was up at 3am irrigating ditches and taking care of business, always working hard, one of the first guys in the weight room and one of the last guys to leave,” Tyler said. “I coached him on both sides of the ball and I knew he was as sound as you could be and understood the game.”
Peterson remained on Tyler’s staff for the next couple years, coaching together during the first two Harvest Bowls. When Tyler retired from Turlock after the 2005 season, Peterson assisted new head coach Lance Cornell—picking up Turlock’s first win of the series in 2008—before assuming head coaching duties in 2009.
Meanwhile, Tyler emerged from coaching retirement to join the Pride, eventually becoming the varsity defensive coordinator before taking over for Brandon Harris as the 2013 head coach.
Now, in a twist of fate, Peterson will be taking the lessons learned from Tyler and using them in an effort to defeat his mentor.
"It’s weird the way life plays out,” Peterson said. “When I got the chance to be a head coach I never thought in a million years that I’d go up against Tom. It’s interesting.”
“A lot of the stuff with what we do, I’ve learned from him, but there’s also things that I’ve changed and made my own. So, in some ways, we’re a lot alike but in others we’re different,” he added.
But Peterson isn’t the only former player of Tyler’s on Turlock’s coaching staff, as a handful of Bulldog coaches, including defensive coordinator Eddie Abbasi and offensive coordinator Zach Hollis, lined up for Tyler in the past.
“I love seeing ex-players coach. To me, that’s real rewarding,” Tyler said.
“I just think everybody is driven. They want to do well and they want to show coach, ‘Hey, look what you taught me and look what I’m doing now,” Peterson said. “Pretty much everybody on my staff feels the same way about Tom. We had a lot of respect for him as players.”
Despite the mutual respect, both coaches left no doubt that no punches would be pulled Friday night. With a playoff berth and a chance to notch a third series win, Peterson and his Bulldogs have ample motivation to take down the Pride. Pitman, on the other hand, will be driven by a tradition of winning as it looks for its 8th series win.
“When I was coaching against Pitman, and now that I’m coaching with them, it’s all the same thing. You coach because you’re competitive and you want to win,” Tyler said. “To me, it’s more important that we go out and put the best foot forward and play the way we’re capable of playing. They could have lost last week and it wouldn’t be any different; they’d play just as hard. And it’s the same with us.”
“It’s an important game. We look forward to it every year, but to me it’s not so big because it’s that Harvest Bowl than it is because we have a chance at a playoff berth,” Peterson said. “We have a chance at the post-season, a chance at having a winning record.”