Peterson leading Hopewell Valley football team into season opener

Hopewell Valley Central High School's football field was mostly empty on this summer evening of Aug. 6. But it will see action on Sept. 13 for the Bulldogs' season opener.
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Hopewell Valley Central High School's football field was mostly empty on this summer evening of Aug. 6. But it will see action on Sept. 13 for the Bulldogs' season opener.

Terrance Peterson jumps out on football game film.

He is the kind of player who unleashes teammates by forcing opposing coaches to game plan for him. Last fall as a sophomore, Peterson, a 6-0, 215-pound defensive lineman, set a Hopewell Valley Central High School record with 24.5 tackles for a loss. He also registered 58 tackles, nine sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Peterson sparked a Hopewell Valley defense that held five opponents to single digit points, and that led the Bulldogs to a 5-4 season, though they missed the NJSIAA playoffs.

This year Hopewell Valley’s goal is to “qualify for the playoffs,” said Bulldogs’ coach Dave Caldwell. With Peterson back for his junior campaign, the Bulldogs will probably make the playoffs if they can score enough points.

All the playmakers Peterson helped unleash in 2018, defensive end Hudson Hartman, defensive end Nick Melillo, linebacker Christian Cacciabaudo and linebacker Mike Randazzo, who are all fine players in their own right, are back for 2019 as well.

Hopewell Valley’s defense could be ferocious this fall, starting with the team’s Sept. 13 season opener at home against Lawrence High School. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Caldwell is excited, and he has every reason to be. He has a stout, playmaking defense, five senior offensive linemen and even a senior quarterback, Brett Confer, who started five games last year.

Hopewell Valley started school on Sept. 5, too, so the Valley’s students and families should be aware of the football opener.

“We expect a good crowd,” Caldwell said.

Peterson and his teammates will have a great chance to thrill that crowd.

Lawrence struggled last fall, finishing 1-8. And its new coach for 2019, Rob Radice, was still figuring out his offensive line when padded practices started in mid August. Even Lawrence’s quarterback, Brandon Deckard, is only a sophomore, though he did start every varsity game as a freshman.

Under Radice, who had success during his first tenure as Lawrence’s coach from 2000-2013, the Cardinals will probably get better as the season goes on. But this week one matchup with Peterson and Hopewell Valley’s defense looks like a mismatch.

Peterson, Hartman, Melillo, Cacciabaudo and Randazzo, who combined for 44.5 tackles for a loss and 16.5 sacks last fall, could be playing downhill all night.

Caldwell expects Radice to double team Peterson, and the Hopewell Valley coach plans to respond by moving his standout all over the field. That ongoing chess match should open up the field for Hartman, Melillo, Cacciabaudo and Randazzo.

“Terrance is the best defensive lineman in the county by far,” Caldwell said. “But the other starters are disciplined, they play hard and they are fundamentally sound.”

Hopewell Valley could also be one of the best teams in Mercer County, and if it is, Peterson could become a Division 1 prospect. There is another benefit to Caldwell being forced to move Peterson around: It will show that Peterson can play almost any spot on defense, which he will probably have to do at the next level.

“When you go against these spread and uptempo offenses, you need defenders that can play multiple positions,” Caldwell said. “Terrance can be that guy.”