Forgive Coleman Petersen for being a bit nostalgic as he begins his senior season with the Utah football team. For one, Petersen has been around the Ute program since 2006. Secondly, as the Utes’ second-year starting placekicker, the former walk-on is in a position that was almost unfathomable six years ago.
The Sandy, Utah, native and former Brighton High School star smashed the state record for the longest kick and was named all-state and all-conference in 2005. He joined the Utes as a walk on the next season.
After redshirting his first year and later leaving for a church mission, Petersen returned to the team in 2008 and participated on the scout teams for two years. He got his first taste of big-time college football when he was given the opportunity to back up All-American Louie Sakoda during the Utes' appearance in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Petersen then had to wait three more years to take the field in a college game.
“I’ve been here since 2006. That was back in the day when Eric Weddle was still here,” Petersen recalled with laugh, dating himself by remembering the Utes’ All-American defensive back now in his sixth year with the San Diego Chargers. “I was recruited as a kicker, but I also played receiver for a year on the scout teams. The coaches needed an extra scout-team receiver, so I played and was flexible with whatever position they put me in.”
An assiduous personality, Petersen worked hard, remained patient and seized the moment when his opportunity finally came in 2011. Petersen ranked second in the Pac-12 Conference in both field goals made (18) and field goal percentage (72%) and received all-Pac-12 honorable mention recognition.
He also experienced the highs and lows in the life of kicker. On a snowy field at Washington State on Nov. 19, Petersen made all three field goal attempts, including a 38-yarder to win the game in overtime. Then just six days later, he missed all three field goal tries against Colorado at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Utes’ 17-14 loss cost them a berth in the Pac-12 Championship game.
“I definitely went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows,” Petersen said. “Washington State, it was perfect and I hit the game winner; and then the next week was Colorado. It kind of took a toll on me mentally; but luckily we had a whole month of bowl prep so it helped me get back into it.
“The highs are easier to handle in the sense that, for me, if I make a kick or do really well that is just what is expected of me,” Petersen said. “Just like if Jordan [Wynn] throws a touchdown pass, he is expected to throw that pass if the man is open. So, it is the same type of concept. But missing kicks definitely takes a toll. You are never going to be perfect, though.”
Waiting as long as he had for his opportunity to finally become the Utes’ place kicker, Peterson wasn’t about to let the Colorado game get him down for good.
“I am used to the criticism now and I can use it as motivation,” he said. “If I ever don't want to work or am feeling lazy, I just think of that game.
“I still get frustrated at times,” Petersen admitted. “When that happens, I just go back to the basics and the technique to overcome it. I have been working on being more consistent.”
Part of building that consistency for Petersen has been getting more acclimated to the pressures and responsibilities of his position. But, he says he doesn't get distracted by the ostentatious stage on which he performs.
“I wouldn’t say I have a routine, but my warm-up is always the same,” Petersen said. “I run a couple of times and do high knees. My stretching routine is always the same, too. Kicking for me, just running out onto the field, you don't even think about the kick. There is so much going on and it goes so fast. You are just worried about the moment. You don't worry about what could happen if you miss or what could happen if you make it.”
With the opportunity to gain more experience in 2012, Petersen hopes his performance will lead to an opportunity to kick at the next level.
“Depending on how the year goes, I will definitely try for the NFL,” Petersen said. “My plan is to get my MBA after I graduate in December. It just all depends on how football goes. You have to get awards in college to get looked at and hopefully invited to the [NFL scouting combine]. Depending on how your college career went, sometimes you can just go try out for teams, too.”
Petersen, the youngest of three boys, is grateful his family raised him with a strong competitive spirit.
“We almost never fought,” Petersen said. “We are all three years apart, and they would tease me sometimes. My dad played football, basketball and baseball and ran track, so we all grew up super competitive. We had a lot of great opportunities to compete.”
Petersen’s family and friends have been an immeasurable source of support for him. He recently married former Ute soccer player Anne Shallenberger and credits her for being an inspiration to him having been a college athlete herself. Petersen jokes that they will be “breeding for kicking” when they start a family.
“My wife and my family are my biggest inspirations, and I have a lot of friends that are super supportive,” Petersen said. “One of my good friends from high school, Chris Trane, is a huge supporter. If I ever needed him to help me practice kicking he would be there.
“My brothers and I are super close and my parents flew to every [away] game last year,” Petersen continued with a grin. “My sister-in-law never played a sport while growing up, so coming into my family was a super shock to her but she is probably more into football than anybody in the family.”
With talent, experience and support, Petersen is hopeful of kicking his way to new heights in his final season with the Utes.