Petersen eyes sacks record
Toreros’ defensive end remains focused on winning as career accomplishments pile up
Kristen Gengenbacher | Contributor | The USD Vista
Off the field, senior defensive end Jonathan Petersen can be seen joking around with his teammates or relaxing in his hammock before practice.
When practice time rolls around though, Petersen flips a switch. He goes from an easy-going, good-natured guy to a tenacious, unapologetic competitor. Petersen practices like he plays, and gives his teammates the will to do the same.
By all accounts, Petersen has had a big season thus far. Petersen currently leads the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in both sacks (9 total, 1.5 per game) and forced fumbles (5 total, 0.83 per game). Additionally, he ranks second in the FCS in tackles for loss (12.5 total, 2.08 per game).
His performance has led to his placement on the STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award Watch List, an award given to the defensive player of the year in the FCS.
Already the University of San Diego’s career leader in forced fumbles, Petersen is one sack away from setting another all-time record for USD Football.
But while Petersen’s performance on the field has helped lead the Toreros to a perfect 4-0 record in the Pioneer Football League, his character and leadership off the field has had just as significant an impact on his team.
Along with Miles McArdle, Petersen was voted co-captain by his teammates, a role that he has taken seriously.
Head Coach Dale Lindsey noticed the role Peterson has taken.
“His leadership is ideal,” Lindsey said. “There’s nothing like someone who does it and doesn’t have to talk about it. Talk is very cheap in football and athletics in general. Jon Jon lives the part. He can talk the talk and walk the walk. That’s what good captains do — there’s some people who think captains are guys who yell or give inspirational speeches. You don’t have to do that. He leads by doing, but he can also motivate. We’ve got the best of both worlds with him and Miles McArdle.”
Now an experienced veteran, Petersen has come a long way since his time as a first-year student athlete.
Petersen remembered a time when he was encouraged by his older teammates, and now, he hopes to be that same influence for the younger guys on the team.
“When I was younger, I focused more on the run game over being a pass rusher,” Petersen said. I took a lot more risks trying to get to the ball and got myself out of position. Now, I’m more of a pass rusher, which has been really helpful. Just understanding the scheme of the defense and my role in that has really made me a better player.”
Along with leading by example, Petersen’s dedication not only to physically outlasting his opponent, but also to mentally understanding the game on a complex level, has contributed to his record-setting year.
“He has grown in applying practice time to execution in the game,” Lindsey said. “He’s learned by playing how to get better and how to be smarter. He studies. There’s nothing like preparation, so whatever the fans see him do on Saturday, he’s also done that on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday — the same tenacity, the same speed.”
His competitive nature and unwillingness to settle for second best is what makes him one of the most statistically accomplished defensive ends in Torero history.
“Jon Jon is very smart,” Lindsey said. “He understands the game of football. He understands his position. No one outworks him.”
Petersen hopes to keep it that way.
With one more sack, he will break the school’s career record set by Eric Bakhtiari in 2007.
Although this accomplishment is inevitably close, Petersen remained focused on the task at hand.
“I have the same mentality going into Stetson [this week],” Peterson said. “Really nothing changes as far as my mindset. I’m going to go out there, follow the game strategy, and do my job for the team.”
Lindsey, while aware of the looming record, reiterated the focus that Peterson displays.
“We want the same kind of retention and detail and work ethic we had last week,” Lindsey said. “We’ll prepare and get there and execute on Saturday. We’ll be going there for one purpose. We have a very good focus as a team — knowing why we go somewhere and what we’re supposed to do once we get there.”
USD, coming off a sizable 63-10 victory over Jacksonville on Saturday, will next face Stetson, currently 1-4 in the Pioneer Football League (PFL).
This will be the second of back-to-back road trips to Florida for the Toreros, a 10-day span which may present a sizable challenge for the team.
This travel schedule may take a toll on the student-athletes, but with Butler upsetting Campbell this past weekend, the Toreros now hold sole possession of the first-place spot in the PFL.
Winning out the rest of the conference season will earn them another PFL title and an automatic berth into the FCS playoffs.
Before that though, the Toreros are focused on the game at hand. Petersen, while acknowledging the importance of his all-time sacks record, is more concerned with winning.
“At the end of the day, there’s really no pressure on me to get this one more sack,” Peterson said. “It’s not something I’m focusing on — we’re just taking it one game at a time, trying to win a PFL title. But it’s really been a team effort. I’ve got guys pushing me and wanting me to break the record. Everybody is on board and having fun being a part of it.”
USD Football returns to the east coast next weekend to play Stetson at 10 a.m. PT.