Mike Peterson has lived in northeast Mesa for about two decades, essentially matching the same amount of time he has spent being an assistant football coach around the Southeast Valley.
There were stops at Mountain View and Chandler before the last seven years at Red Mountain where he was the defensive coordinator.
Each season was a build up to the 2017 campgain.
At the age of 45, Peterson has his first head coaching position after being named the coach of Red Mountain, a program that is two miles from his house and has seemingly also built up to the 2017 season after making the state semifinals last season, in December.
“I figured I’d get my chance once my daughter Tatum, who is in middle school, was out of high school,” Peterson said. “This was an opportunity that came up. I told my wife I am going to interview and either they choose me or I choose who I work for.
“I hope it does work out. I think we are having fun.”
It sure looked that way in practice this week, leading up to Friday’s season opener at nationally-ranked Chandler.
The players were attentive, feisty and ready to roll. A few were disciplined, and were made to run. The coaching staff brought a positive but stern vibe.
It’s a new era but a familiar one for the Mountain Lions. Most of the coaching staff remained or returned after a short absence. They’ve worn the Cardinal and Black RM with pride in the past.
“These guys all know what Red Mountain is about,” Peterson said. “I interviewed over 40 applicants for offensive coaches from all over the country, running the whole gamut, and I ended up with two guys that know what we are all about.”
Those two guys are Chris Andreadis (run game coordinator) and Taber LaMarr (pass game coordinator), while former Dobson head coach Mike DeMassa is the offensive line coach. Peterson hands over the reins of the defense to Kyle Enders with help from Matt Kelley (defensive line) and Julian Madison (defensive backs).
“It’s been good,” senior safety Justin Coleman said. “It’s a lot of the same coaches. They know how to push us and get us to work.”
The work might very well lead to Red Mountain’s best regular season since 2012 when the Mountain Lions won eight games and if everything goes well maybe even the 9-1 2004 campaign is a possible mark to chase.
Of course this is all preseason talk. There is a little matter of playing the game and facing one of the toughest non-conference schedules before tackling the Easy Valley Region.
“We haven’t played a game yet,” Peterson said. “It’s nice to get the press, or ranked high, but us old guys have to keep the young guys grounded. We have to make them earn everything they get, make them work hard and humbled. If they do their best good things happen.”
There is some evidence to back up the expectations as the Mountain Lions are a unanimous preseason top five pick among media members, including No. 4 in the MyNewsMesa.com rankings.
Red Mountain rode a hot streak at the end of 2016 to the 6A Conference state semifinals before falling 21-14 to Mountain Pointe in an intense game that easily could have propelled the Mountain Lions to their first state title appearance in 2001.
A similar run looks to be in store for Red Mountain in 2017. The returning players got a feel for what it is like playing at the highest level of play against one of the state’s top programs a year ago.
And they didn’t flinch. They made some mistakes, but not because the moment was too big. And they certainly never backed down.
“It showed us what we can do,” said senior Lance Lawson, who is on the player of the year watch list. “It gave us more confidence. We always knew we could do it, but it proved it to us. It let people know we are a top program in the state.”
The Mountain Lions return several key players from the squad mixed with some young players ready to breakout to bring heavy expectations.
The offensive should be among the elite in Arizona with Lawson concentrating on running back and wide receiver, along with being a safety, after spending most of the time behind center last year.
“He is a dynamic player and tough little player,” Peterson said. “We are going to use him on defense as well. He is more suited to play safety where he can high point the football and use his football IQ.
“We changed our offense so it is not so Lance-central and really open things up.”
The move is made possible by senior quarterback Cannon Griner, who moved to the position after Austin Duffy decided to concentrate on baseball.
Offensive contributors besides Lawson, who had 2,283 total yards and 28 touchdowns in 2016, are wide receivers Gerald Wilbon and Shaq Daniels, while Alejandro Lujan will be the running back when Lawson is on the outside.
The defense will be led by four-year starter Delton Jackson at linebacker, defensive end Gabe Williams and Coleman.
It adds up to a formidable squad with the goal being the program’s first state title since 2001, starting with a trip to Austin Field to take on the No. 14 Wolves, who have won the state title two times in the last three years.
“It’s not any fun to fight the girl down the street so you might as well fight the toughest guy in the room,” Peterson said. “We will have some fun. They will do their due diligence and so will we. Hopefully, it will come down to a few plays at the end.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to email@example.com.