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Turlocks Peterson faces familiar foe in All-Star game
James Peterson pic1
Before entering his third season at Turlock High, coach James Peterson will lead the South team in the 38th annual Central California Lions All-Star Football Game on Saturday at the University of Pacifics Stagg Memorial Stadium in Stockton. - photo by CHHUN SUN / The Journal

The thought still gnaws at Turlock High football coach James Peterson, like a pesky bug.

He says he’s over his Bulldogs’ 24-7 loss to Lodi High in the opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs on Nov. 11, 2010. But when he’s asked about the game, he can’t help but think about the what-ifs.

What if his star quarterback, Kevin Kramer, wasn’t playing with a bruised thigh?

What if his star running back, Ricky Fuentes, didn’t have an abdominal strain?

What if one of his best receivers, Tyler Cook, wasn’t hurt for the game?

Those are the thoughts that still run through the mind of Peterson, who, at that point, had already guided the Bulldogs to one of the greatest turnarounds in state history during his second season. In other words, he wouldn’t mind a do-over.

“I feel like if we had a second chance,” he said, “it’d be a different outcome.”

Well, here it is. On Saturday, Peterson will be the head coach of the South team in the 38th annual Central California Lions All-Star Football Game at the University of Pacific’s Stagg Memorial Stadium in Stockton, with kickoff at 7 p.m. His team will go up against the North team and Lodi High coach Todd Dillon, the man who guided his Flames in knocking the Bulldogs out of the playoffs last year.

For Peterson, this second chance comes with some advantages. His coaching staff, with the offensive and defensive schemes that turned a 0-10 team into an 8-3 team last season, will also participate in the All-Star game. And the South team roster includes two recent Turlock graduates in dual threat Ricky Fuentes and linebacker/tight end Connor Pearson, as well as Hilmar High lineman Trent Goiburn.

“It’s a huge advantage,” Pearson said about operating under the Turlock system for another game. “We don’t have to learn anything new. We have to worry about the game and not the technicalities.”

The selective group of Bulldogs and the rest of the South squad began practice Monday afternoon at the practice field in front of Fitzpatrick Arena on the Cal State Stanislaus campus, where they’re staying for the week. They will continue their two-a-days until Friday afternoon, and then it’s off to Stockton.

This particular All-Star isn’t only about the players. The opposing head coaches have a shared history. Besides seeing each other in last year’s playoffs, they were also a part of the annual event after high school.

In 1999, before he started his football career at Sacramento State, Peterson’s South team suffered a heartbreaking 9-7 loss.

For Dillon, he was the MVP of the 1980 North team’s 21-11 win.

Now, they’re back at it again.

Peterson said he has a “work relationship” with Dillon, adding, “He’s an excellent coach. His guys work hard and they play with class. That’s basically it. We’re not friends. I think he respects me the same way I respect him.”

Even so, Peterson wants to win. Though he sees this as a second chance, he appreciates the honor. He appreciates being a part of a game that brings together the top talent in the area, while allowing everyone to bond for the next few days. He remembers his All-Star experience and the amount of talent that surrounded him.

“I think it’s a good tradition to keep going and kids get to be around quality coaches,” said Peterson, who is the first Turlock coach to participate in the All-Star since Tom Tyler in 2003. “I think that’s the main reason why I wanted to do it. I wanted to do it so the kids can have a different coaching style that they’re not used to, to show you can do things the right way and be successful.”

To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.