Andy Peterson and Lowellville are gaining respect.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
LOWELLVILLE -- When you attend a school as small as Lowellville High, playing teams from South Range, Springfield and Mineral Ridge can be an intimidating experience.
So it's no wonder that the Lowellville football team can't wait to take the field for its next three games. This fall, the Rockets (5-0, 2-0) are the team to beat in the Inter-County League.
Powering the Rockets' engine in their drive for the ICL crown are the wheels of senior tailback Andy Peterson, who has rushed for approximately 500 yards in four games this season.
"It seemed like everyone in town was expecting this would be a good year," Peterson said. "I just didn't think it would be this good."
What Peterson and the Rockets have enjoyed the most is the respect they've been receiving from other ICL coaches.
"[South Range coach Dan Yeagley], whose team last year was unbeaten and won two playoff games, even said we were the team to beat," said Peterson, who plays safety on defense.
"To be in a league that every year we're dominated by bigger schools like Ridge and Springfield, it's hard to get people to respect us because we're so small," Peterson said. "This [season] is better because we've earned more respect than we have the past few years. We're excited."
So far, the Rockets have won blowouts against Crestview, Southern, Brookfield, Jackson-Milton and Mathews, outscoring their opponents, 171-41.
As good as this season has gone, Peterson said it hasn't topped his best football experience.
"That would be last year's playoff game at Mogadore," Peterson said. "That was a lot of fun even though we lost."
What's fascinating about the Rockets' 6-foot-2, 200-pound standout is that he had no interest in football until sixth grade.
Six years ago, his grandfather, Theodore Flora, suggested he try out for the pee-wee team.
"I was a lineman, but when our tailback got injured, Coach put me in to run," Peterson said. "I've been tailback ever since."
During his sophomore year, Peterson rushed for 1,048 yards. Last year, he gained 1,176 for the 7-3 Rockets, who qualified for the Division VI playoffs.
A three-sport athlete, Peterson also participates in basketball and track.
"Track is my second favorite [sport]," said Peterson, who competes in the high jump, long jump and the 200-meter dash. He qualified for the state meet in the long jump.
He's drawn interest from several college programs, including Ohio State and Penn State.
He hasn't narrowed his search, but he said he plans to take to heart a piece of advice from his coach, John Protopapa.
"Coach said that if you get a chance to go away and play somewhere big, go do it," Peterson said. "He said to not stay close just because you want to stay close to your friends."
Because of his grandfather's love for Penn State, Peterson said it would be a dream come true if he could one day be a Nittany Lion.
In the family
His parents, Keith and Chris Peterson, have three other children at Lowellville High: junior Jeff (the Rockets' other tailback) and sophomores Julie and Kathy.
Friday, the Rockets travel to North Lima for a showdown with the Raiders (3-2, 1-1). After that comes a home game against Springfield (3-2, 2-0) and a road trip to Mineral Ridge (4-1, 2-0). The outcomes of those games will go a long way to determining who wears the ICL crown this year.
"Since I've played high school football, we've never beaten Springfield," Peterson said. "They've always been dominant, so knowing you can contend with bigger teams creates a lot of pride."