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Turlocks Peterson never planned to become Coach, but hes dealing with it
James Peterson, the new Turlock High football coach, speaks to his players during Tuesday morning’s conditioning session at Turlock High. He was the defensive line coach before being hired as the head coach in February. - photo by CHHUN SUN / The Journal

All the boys had left to do was run another 400 meters. This was what James Peterson, the new Turlock High football coach, wanted in order to successfully conclude the voluntary summer workout at Joe Debely Stadium on a warm Tuesday morning.

No one needed to be here. The players could have stayed home and hammered a few rounds on the video game console. Peterson could have said, “Forget it!”

But neither side quit on each other.

The boys ran that last 400 meters with sweat dripping from all parts of their bodies. The fast ones finished in about 90 seconds, grabbed their knees and encouraged the slower ones to complete the run.

Peterson liked what he saw.

He has enough to worry about these days. He’s never been in a head coaching position before. If you had asked a couple years ago if he could see himself guiding a high school Division I program, he would have shook his head no.

There are some factors.

He got married in June, so the promotion would only develop more time constraints. And he was content with being the defensive line coach, a position he started in 2003. Back then, he just worried about his small group of players and having the guys ready for Friday night.

He never imagined he would be the one instructing a group of tired boys to finish another lap around the track when all they would rather do was lay down on the grass.

“It’s definitely doubled up my workload,” said Peterson, who also teaches athletics special education. “My days are twice as long and I worry twice as much.”

In February, he replaced Lance Cornell, who resigned after three seasons with a 15-15 record that included Turlock’s first win in the Harvest Bowl last season in order to spend more time with his family. Cornell is still with the Bulldog football program as the junior varsity defensive coordinator.

Peterson knows a lot is expected from him. His players look up to him to get them ready for the fall season, as well as Monday’s 7-on-7 passing league game against Turlock Christian High beginning at 6 p.m. at Turlock High. His assistants — including offensive coordinator Kirk Peterson (no relation) and defensive coordinator Joe Oliveira — also expect a lot from the 28-year-old coach, who was encouraged by his peers to apply for the head coaching position when there were talks about Cornell stepping down.

And Peterson understands his importance.

He grew up on a family farm in west Turlock with an older brother who became a professional rodeo rider. Peterson got passionate about football during his Pop Warner days, when his coach wouldn’t allow the chubby kid — Peterson’s term — to leave without a fulfilling workout.

He then moved on to play at Turlock High, where he became an all-district selection before competing as a defensive lineman at Sacramento State. All that eventually led to him becoming the head coach of the Bulldogs.

“He’s excited about his new assignment and looks forward to instilling his positive energy and influence on our student-athletes and coaching staff,” athletic director Anthony Belew said after hiring Peterson.

His influence was evident Tuesday, when his boys wanted to quit. But Peterson knew that wasn’t the best thing to do. He knew he wouldn’t be able to reach the boys in the capacity that he wants to without offering some encouragement. He learned that during his days in Pop Warner.
“I never set out to be a coach,” Peterson said. “But all the connections I made in my life drew me back. I never planned on it. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m definitely ready for this.”
To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.