By Robert Hayes
Something that every athlete and coach will say is that sports have the ability to bring people together.
There’s something unique about a connection that people have with others who either play or coach a sport. This unique connection is amplified when a parent is given the opportunity to work with their son or daughter in the world of sports.
Cal Ripken Sr. and Jr. had father-son coach-player connection with the Baltimore Orioles. Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. were teammates in 1990 and 1991 with the Seattle Mariners, and Doc Rivers was given the opportunity to coach his son, Austin Rivers, when he played for the Los Angeles Clippers.
President Jim Tressel had the opportunity to play for his father, Lee Tressel, at Baldwin Wallace University in the ’70s.
Once such father-son connection is currently present at Youngstown State University’s football program with John Peterson, the Penguins offensive line coach, and Cole Peterson, an undergraduate offensive assistant and recruiting operator with YSU.
“It’s probably one of the coolest things ever, growing up as a coach’s kid,” Cole Peterson said. “There’s nothing truly like it. You feel like you have 105 older brothers at all times, it’s really special.”
John Peterson is excited to have his son with him at YSU.
“There’s no question that there’s a very special element when you surround yourself and have to opportunity to be with your son,” John Peterson said.
John Peterson grew up as a multisport athlete and began getting involved with organized football in eighth grade. He grew up looking up to to former Bengals offensive linemen such as Dave Rimington and Anthony Muñoz.
“I was always involved as a young student in high school and college with different youth sports, whether it was NYSP and always worked working in summer camps,” John said.
John Peterson was an offensive lineman at The Ohio State University from 1987-1990 when he crossed paths with Bo Pelini, the current Penguins football coach.
“[Pelini] is the most passionate competitor, and he was the same way in college,” John Peterson said. “His intense focus to be his best carries over into his coaching and teaching.”
The University of Akron, University of Cincinnati and the University of Pittsburgh are all places John Peterson spent time coaching at and his 30 plus years in coaching included an eight year stint at OSU from 2004-2011 as the offensive line coach for YSU President Jim Tressel when he still coached for the Buckeyes.
He looks back at his time with the Buckeyes fondly.
“It was a unique situation to be able to coach at your alma mater for one and to have an opportunity to transition and coach were you played and having a lot of success,” he said.
John Peterson went on to praise Tressel.
“There’s certain people in your professional life that impact you, and President Tressel definitely impacted me as a coach and person and was influential in a lot of different areas,” he said.
While John Peterson was coaching with the Buckeyes, Cole Peterson was able to grow up around the prestigious football program and considers Tressel to have a godfather role in his life.
“President Tressel is close to me and my family. First time I met him was at the age of five, and he’s been influential in my life since then,” Cole said. “Even after Ohio State, you’re still talking to him all the time and came full circle with me coming to Youngstown State. He’s a huge reason why I’m here.”
One of the challenges of coaching in college athletics is the possibility of having to relocate at any possible moment, but John Peterson felt that his family made moving around a lot easier.
“I couldn’t be in a better situation with support from my wife and two boys,” John said. “At the end of the day, coaching football is what you do, but not who you are. When you go home and have support, it makes the transition, or some of the ups and downs a bit more level.”
Cole Peterson had to grow up going to different schools and having different friend groups.
“Moving made it difficult growing up, to move all around at such a young age is hard, but I have great family and faith,” Cole said. “I have my older brother Austin, who’s my best friend, and we took the punches together.”
Cole Peterson transferred to YSU in the summer of 2018, and he has been with the football program ever since then. John Peterson was hired in February of 2019 to replace Carmen Bricillo after Bricillo left YSU to take a job with the New England Patriots.
For John Peterson, it’s special to be back coaching with his son.
“It takes a village to raise a boy and there’s a lot of role models on campus, whether it’s in athletics or elsewhere,” John Peterson said. “A lot of people impact your son, and to be able to see that first hand and see your son engage into campus and engage into his college experience and grow as a young man.”
John Peterson also feels that raising two boys has helped his coaching as well.
“As [Austin and Cole] grew into the recruiting age to college age, my wife would always remind me that my players — they’re like talking to your son as far as the age bracket and they’re only 16-year-olds that you’re recruiting,” John Peterson said. “Just think of where your sons are at with distractions in the world and the different choices that are out there. That was always a great equalizer to reflect on in the stages the boys were at and relating to the kids that I was coaching.”
Cole Peterson has learned a lot from working with his dad.
“He always would tell me, ‘Don’t feel sorry for yourself, when things don’t go the right way. Be a competitor,’ and that’s really struck with me,” Cole said. “I’ve taken that to a whole other level.”
“I’m ultra competitive in everything I do, and I’m never going to feel sorry for myself. I’m going to attack everything with 110 percent and do everything with a high motor and high energy. That’s just type of person I am. My dad has been so influential in my life, he’s someone I can come to and talk to about anything.” Cole said.
It is noteworthy that Tressel and Pelini, two men that both interacted with John Peterson at Ohio State at different points in his life, have slowly converged at YSU, and John Peterson believes that says a lot about Youngstown.
“I think it’s a reflection of how special a place Youngstown is. I think when you reflect back at all of the people and things that have been accomplished here, there’s a lot of respect for the city and the university,and what this place has done in the past,” John said. “With that respect is a lot of responsibility, and I’m excited to be apart of that and develop this team and win a championship.”
Cole Peterson has a good outlook on the upcoming season.
“I’m excited about the 2019 season with these guys because I think we’re going to make a run at Frisco like Bo [Pelini] said,” he said. “The championship effort is what we aim for here, and we want to restore the national championships and restore this place to where it was at under President Tressel.”
The Penguins are finishing up spring practices and are looking forward to a fresh season. YSU has the honor to take place in the first college football game of the season when they take on Samford University at the Cramton Bowl in the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff game, which will be broadcasted nationally on ESPN. The game is set to take place Aug. 24 with kickoff at 3 p.m.