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Justin Peters has been to a number of coaching clinics in the past decade to hear respected football minds speak about formations and schemes.

While there has been some value to it, the 32-year-old Peters was yearning for more to continue his development as a coach. 

"You don't get to experience what they are like as an actual coach," Peters said.

He wanted to see another head coach game plan for an opponent behind closed doors. He wanted to witness how another head coach interacted with his players.

So when an opportunity came about last winter to join the Quad-City Steamwheelers staff as a receivers coach, Peters didn't hesitate.

"It has been a fantastic experience for me as a coach to see how it actually happens with higher-level guys," Peters said. "The way I learn is through experience."

Peters had coaching experience when he was hired by Davenport West in 2015, but he never had been a head football coach.

It is one thing to work with a position group or even call plays. It is entirely different to be the leader of a Class 4A program and responsible for every decision made on the field.

Peters directed West to three straight wins to start his tenure, but the Falcons followed with 23 losses in the next 24 games.

There are plenty of obstacles in attempting to rebuild a program.

How do you shed the losing stigma? Are the players devoting enough time? Is there adequate belief? Is the scheme tailored to the personnel?

When Peters specifically examines the Xs and Os, there was one area of the game where he felt his knowledge was lacking.

"One of my biggest weaknesses as a coach was the pass game," Peters said. "Being able to work with (Steamwheelers) coach Cory Ross and develop the pass game so our quarterbacks and receivers can be successful was big.

"These guys are eating this up. We're running a lot of the same stuff they ran over there in the arena league because it works."

West opened the season with a 21-0 victory over United Township last Friday at the Soule Bowl. Quarterback Zach Trevino completed 12 of 21 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns. Receiver Malik Westerfield had three grabs for 102 yards, including a 47-yard score.

Peters and Ross met at a Davenport Grid Club luncheon last fall. They immediately hit it off. 

"We had some real genuine conversations," Ross said. "You could see his love for the game."

As Ross started to assemble his staff, he remembered his talks with Peters. He reached out for a face-to-face meeting.

Ross was in need of a receivers coach.

"It was a good test for him because he was more of a defensive-minded coach," Ross said. "You could tell so bad, though, he wanted to continue to learn. 

"He was a great asset for me."

Peters absorbed as much information as he could from Ross, who rushed for more than 2,700 yards at Nebraska, played in the NFL and has spent the past four seasons coaching indoor football. 

"He was there learning and asking questions why I did that or how can he incorporate this into what he's doing (at West)," Ross said. "There would be times on bus trips we'd talk about taking the concepts and formations we had and applying it to the outdoor game where you have more weapons (11 players as opposed to eight)."

Ross had Peters up top in the coaching box during games. With his defensive background, Peters relayed thoughts to Ross about what adjustments needed to be made against certain defensive coverages. 

"His input was very valuable," Ross said. "He definitely understands the game, knows the playbook in and out. The thing with Justin Peters, he was always willing to do whatever you asked."

Ross plans to have Peters return for a second season next spring. 

"As long as I'm there, coach Peters will be along with me," Ross said. 

Peters said the best part about the experience was taking that insight back to West. His coaching staff was receptive to change. So too were his players.

"The coaching staff I have now has bought in and is willing to do what needs to be done for these kids to get better," Peters said, "and the kids are responding in a positive way. That hasn't always happened in the past."

The players have witnessed a change in their head coach, too.

"From coach's first year to now, you can tell he's starting to figure it out and what we need to get done," receiver Jacob Milem said. "People are going to see some new stuff this year.

"It definitely is exciting."


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.