Petersen, Albany in NCAA playoffs
Photo courtesy of University at Albany Athletics Palmerton High School graduate Justin Petersen carries the ball for the University at Albany during a game earlier this season.
Last weekend, Justin Petersen scored the first touchdown of the game for the University at Albany, catching a three-yard pass for a score to help the Great Danes win the All-Northeast Conference championship with a 31-21 triumph over Sacred Heart.
That score triggered flashbacks of Petersen's senior year at Palmerton when he helped lead the Blue Bombers to their first league championship on the gridiron since 1957.
It's not too often a fullback gets to carry the ball 181 times during the course of a season, rush for 883 yards and 16 touchdowns. He finished the year with 18 TDs and 118 points as the Bombers finished with a 9-3 record that year and were District 11 2A silver medalists.
"It's really a cool feeling," Petersen said in a phone interview this week. "Back then we were league champs and got to play for a district championship and now, we won the conference and it's the first time that Albany has qualified for the NCAA Division 1 FCS playoffs. It really makes you feel like you accomplished something."
It was a big adjustment for Petersen when he stepped on the field for the Great Danes as a freshman.
"I was used to being a running guy and Coach (Paul) McArdle would always bust me about my blocking," he said. "But I've gotten better over the years."
Besides redshirting his sophomore year at Albany, Petersen has started every game for the Great Danes except the last three of his junior year when his season came to an abrupt halt with a separated shoulder.
"I didn't get to participate in spring football prior to this season," he said. "I did more running to stay in shape and returned to action for drills this summer."
And needless to say, he was back as the starting fullback.
"I remember I could look recruiters in the eye and say 'Take this kid. He is a great young man and would do anything you ask him to.' He was a great running back and even a better linebacker," said Paul McArdle, former Palmerton head coach, who had Petersen on his team through some outstanding seasons. "They needed a blocking back at Albany and he became a great blocker."
"That's the kind of player he is, Just the consummate team player willing to sacrifice for the team. So with players like Justin, it's not surprising at all that they have won their conference and are FCS bound."
Petersen was used on special teams, both kickoff and kickoff return, punt coverage and both field goal and extra point attempts as soon as his Albany career started. He continued as a special teams player through his entire career and due to a couple of team injuries got his shot as starting fullback and the rest is history.
"Justin Petersen is a great human being," said Albany tight end and fullback coach Akeem Cedeno. " He sets a great example of class and character for the other players on our team.
"Justin is the most coachable player I've ever had the priviledge to oversee. He has been a solid, consistant contributor to our offense and our team. As a fullback, he is constantly asked to do the dirtywork on the field: kick out defensive ends and lead block for our running backs. He's a very selfless player and relishes his role. He' s a very smart football player and has made my job as a coach easier. A true delight."
"He has great hands and we occasionally reward his dirty work with a TD pass every now and then."
As a freshman, Petersen caught eight passes for 58 yards and a touchdown.
"The two biggest memories I'll take away from here is the first game I started as a freshman when I caught my first touchdown pass and the last one, when I caught the pass for the first touchdown of the game," he said.
As far as this weekend's game goes, Petersen feels both Albany and Stony Brook are very comparable even though Stony Brook has more scholarship players on its roster.
"They used to play in our coference before I got here and were our rival, so it should be a great game," he said.
Petersen will graduate with a Bachelors Degree in Human Biology, but still has a year of eligibility left and wants to play again next fall, but it remains to be seen where.
"I've been thinking about where I want to go to grad school and I'll hash things out and apply over winter break.," he said.
So don't be surprised to see Petersen do what Lehighton and UConn alum Robbie Frey did, and whether he gets more touches or not, helping the team will still be his top priority.