Terrance Peterson owns numerous school defensive records, which makes it hard to envision him doing what he did at the start of his football career.
“My first position was at quarterback, but I can’t throw the ball,” the Hopewell Valley Central High senior said with a laugh. “For any praise anyone might give me, it’s not for the way I throw a football. The minute they saw me, they knew that career path was done.”
Peterson can, however, throw ball carriers to the ground with tremendous authority.
He did it frequently enough last year to win the 12th Man TD Club’s Charles J. “Fuzzy” Falzone Memorial Award as the Non-Prep Lineman of the Year as a junior. The honor — which came on the heels of Bulldog Patrick Allex winning it in 2018 — came after Peterson had 71 tackles (18 for loss) and four sacks while forcing five fumbles. He also blocked two punts and two kicks.
Peterson owns CHS records for tackles for loss in a game (5.5), season (24.5) and career (42.5); career sacks (15), forced fumbles in a season (5) and blocked kicks/punts in a season (3). With two games remaining he was second to current Villanova player Drew Wiley (209 tackles) in career tackles with 192.
Asked where Peterson ranked among Bulldogs defensive players, coach Dave Caldwell said, “When we had the Wileys (Jeff and Drew), and (Mike) Gies and some other guys, they were great, and they were on the same team so we were more successful. But I think maybe Terrance had the most impact on any one single team defensively.”
That defensive talent is likely the reason he can’t throw the ball.
“My dad and I didn’t throw the football in the backyard,” Peterson recalled. “He would say ‘Get in a three-point stance, get off the ball.’ That’s why my get-off is the way it is.”
Terrance took that defensive talent to the Pop Warner League in Hamilton, where he grew up, and then to Bordentown in the West Jersey Youth Football League. He played with Mercer County stars such as Notre Dame’s Ricky Spruill and Cortaz and Cole Williams and Hamilton West’s Kevin Boswell.
“You can go down the line who is the best players in the county now, and I played with all of them,” Peterson said.
He actually is one of them, although for one frightful year things did not look promising. In his first high school game for the Hopewell freshman team, Peterson felt someone fall on his leg while trying to thwart a 2-point conversion.
“I fell backwards and felt the snap immediately,” he said. “I went to the hospital that night and they said it was a clean break.”
Surgery was required for the insertion of metal plates in his leg. Peterson came down with an infection, and a second surgery was done to remove the plates.
“Breaking my leg and what came after that was probably one of the most heart-breaking things of my life,” Peterson said. “I went from thinking maybe I’ll play some JV as a freshman to not playing a whole year.”
Caldwell mused that he would have gotten varsity time as a freshman if he hadn’t broken his leg.
“I thought my future in football was pretty much over,” Peterson said. “I thought I would be riding the bench for the rest of my career. Going into that summer and training camp it was all mental. Everything had healed up physically so it was just about me going out and believing in myself.”
His belief returned on the first day of full pads when the hitting began. He felt like he was back in Pop Warner with absolutely no drop-off. Still, his only expectation was to be a JV starter as a sophomore.
By season’s end, he led the Bulldogs varsity with 58 tackles and nine sacks along with four forced fumbles. He has gotten better ever since.
The 6-0, 210-pound Peterson was moved to linebacker this year after two seasons on the line and has been just as good. Through Hopewell’s first five games he led the team in tackles (70) and sacks (2) despite being on every opponent’s radar.
“Teams are always game planning for him,” Caldwell said. “He understands that and he’s able to put himself in a situation where he’s gonna be successful. He’s got a high football IQ, he watches a lot of film and he’s played a lot of football.
Peterson, who is still mulling what college he will attend, says he likes playing linebacker. “I like being able to see everything and being able to act on what I see and shoot and have a head start,” he said.
As he winds up his high school career, Terrance looks back with pride on his Lineman of the Year award as well as the school records he has set. It was something he aspired to as youngster.
“Freshman year we had probably one of the biggest icons in Hopewell history with Drew Wiley,” Peterson said. “I spent a lot of time looking up to Drew and Jeff. I looked at Drew’s name in the record books and thought, ‘Man I’d really like to be in that company.’ I just hoped to live up to that expectation.”
He has done all that and more, having also rushed 35 times for 246 yards, including a 171-yard effort against Lawrence, although Caldwell is reluctant to put his star defender on offense too often.
“It would be tough to go both ways every game,” Caldwell said. “When teams game plan toward him it becomes a pretty physical challenge. ”
After the angst of his freshman year, Peterson is more than happy to be playing one way.
“Honestly, it’s a shock to me,” he said of his success. “When football got stopped I thought ‘This is one of the things I love to do and this is gonna get shot down for me.’ I thought I wouldn’t be able to recover from it. I’m happy I even got to this point and have been able to play at all.”
Let alone, play like a stud.