ELDRIDGE — Zach Petersen's ability to sack the quarterback and push people around the football field has put him in a difficult light.

The spotlight.

Petersen does not crave attention like some teenagers being courted by Division I football programs.

"All these coaches coming around, he doesn't really like that," his father Troy Petersen admitted. "That's not the way he is. He's not one of those jumping up and down saying, 'Hey look at me.'

"He'd rather hold you up to take pictures of you than have the picture taken of him."

But as teammates, coaches, family and media gathered in the North Scott commons area Wednesday morning, the focus was directly on Petersen.

Less than 48 hours after a verbal commitment, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound defensive end signed his national letter of intent with Iowa State.

"Now that it is official, it is a big weight off my shoulders," Petersen said.

It was breakthrough moment for North Scott's program. The Lancers have had players come through their program recently went on to excel at the Division II or III level.

Since Kevin Tippet has taken North Scott's program to new heights in the last decade, it never has had a Power 5 Conference recruit.

Until now.

"It finally puts North Scott on the map with the big schools," Petersen said. "If another kid can do this next year or the year after, it starts to set in that North Scott really needs to be on the radar of these schools."

But more than what it meant for his program, Tippet said this was about Petersen and what he has done to earn this opportunity.

Petersen posed for pictures and handled interview requests with grace.

Still, you could sense Petersen was uneasy being the center of attention.

"He's just a down-to-earth kid," Troy said.

Asked if he enjoyed the recruiting circus, Petersen hesitated, smiled and responded: "a little bit."

"Sometimes I'd be sitting at home and all of a sudden you'd get a text from one of these coaches," Petersen said. "It gets annoying after a while, but it is really cool to know people want to talk to you and what you're thinking."

Coaches called and texted frequently in the last month. They visited his home. They attended his wrestling meets.

Even with all the hoopla and a chaotic month that featured recruiting visits to Illinois, Iowa State and Kansas State, Petersen never wavered in his priorities.

As Petersen was texting back and forth with a Division I assistant coach one night in the last month, it finally reached a point where Petersen politely said, "Hey, I really appreciate this, but I need to study. I've got a Spanish test tomorrow."

"Not every kid does that," Tippet said. "It says a lot about his character."

The coaches at North Scott rave about his work ethic, humility and his selflessness.

"Iowa State is getting a real humble man," Tippet said. "The kid loves to work, and I've always been impressed with his motor. When you watch him play, he doesn't take plays off."

Tippet was not stunned Petersen's recruiting soared in the last month. He was surprised it took so long for the masses to notice.

Petersen recorded 52 tackles (16 for loss, 10 sacks) as North Scott won its district and reached the quarterfinal round of the Class 4A playoffs.

About midway through the season, Troy pulled Tippet aside and asked why his son's recruiting hadn't taken off.

"I kept watching him play, and he did all the right things over the summer, worked his tail off and kept wondering," Tippet said. "We're four or five weeks in, and he's just playing like a man with his speed, length and physicality.

"I was kind of wondering where all the interest would be."

When Illinois offered in mid-November, it triggered a domino effect. Kansas State offered two weeks later. Then in a span of about 48 hours, Petersen collected offers from Iowa State, Nebraska and Iowa.

"Insanity," Troy said.

When Petersen decided on Iowa State, he had a proud papa. Troy played nose guard at Iowa State in the early 1990s under Jim Walden.

Now his son will run out of the tunnel at Jack Trice Stadium.

"Words can't explain the feeling you have," Troy said. "Wherever he wanted to go, we were all in. But when he made his final decision, it was pretty cool."

What will Petersen's impact be at Iowa State? He was one of two defensive ends among the 18 players the school signed Wednesday in the early signing period.

"I feel I could play right away if I really pushed at it, but I think redshirting would be a great thing for me," Petersen said. "I've always been very active and never pushed putting on tons of weight.

"I think focusing on football, eating and getting a little bigger for a year could help me tremendously."

Regardless, Tippet is confident Petersen's best football is ahead of him.

"He's still developing, in terms of his frame and ability," Tippet said, "but he has a good head on his shoulders, a good student and a great work ethic.

"That will take him far."


Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.