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From running up and down the football field as a high schooler in Momence to winning back-to-back Super Bowls as an offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the seventies, Momence alumnus Ted Petersen has plenty of experience playing and coaching the game he loves. And he credits his success to his childhood, acknowledging the work ethic modeled by the community. The same work ethic he observed on his grandfather’s farm and in the community was instrumental in how he showed up to camp after being drafted by the Steelers.

By Nate Fisher

“There was a very special kind of people in Momence and the farm families surrounding the town. These were salt of the earth people. Great neighbors that would do anything for you. They had the pioneer spirit. They worked hard. They were hard workers,” shares Ted, reflecting on his childhood.

He adds, “The biggest part of my family culture was the work ethic I saw in my grandparents and parents. It was phenomenal. I just did what I thought you were supposed to do and followed through.”


To illustrate the point, Ted, a natural storyteller, discusses arriving at the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie camp. At the time, he was straight out of college at Eastern Illinois University. Ted considers the rookie camp one of the most challenging events of his life. He compared himself to other new players, especially an All-American from Ohio State University. A week into camp, this All-American dramatically walked off the field, announcing that he’d quit and ‘couldn’t take it anymore.’


As Ted watched this All-American turned peer walk off the field, he had an epiphany. Ted realized he had a fighting chance for the first time if he maintained the same work ethic he’d learned in his youth. At that moment, he realized that good things would happen if he kept showing up daily and grinding it out.

As a child, Ted witnessed what he describes as a farmer mentality of hard work, strong ethics, and community support throughout his fields of endeavors. It was with him as he worked as a farmhand, in the classroom, and on the football field.


“The guys that made a big impression on me were the guys that hired me as a farm hand. They were hardworking, honest, generous people. They treated me very well. I remember one guy, Richard, who encouraged me in my athletic career. He never asked me to do anything he wouldn’t do himself, which profoundly impacted me. Richard encouraged me, and it greatly impacted my life.”


Able to recount story after story as if it were yesterday, Ted continues by talking about his high school football coach, Jack Cherry. While Coach Cherry was foundationally strong and knew his way around a playbook, he excelled at ensuring his players were mentally and physically tougher than their opponents on most nights. A retired Marine, Ted admits with a smile that Coach Cherry wasn’t always easy on his players, but that toughness led to their success, on and off the field.

Ted didn’t play football until his freshman year of high school when several friends who had been playing since they were seven encouraged him to join the team. He humbly suggests he was a product of his surroundings and wasn’t even the best player on his high school squad. Instead, he says he was blessed, as several other players on the team could have been the player that went pro.


He grins and admits that he was offered only one scholarship, and that was to play for Eastern Illinois University, which he playfully admits isn’t known as a football powerhouse. Upon graduating, Ted was drafted by the Steelers and played offensive line for three teams—the Steelers, the Cleveland Browns, and the Indianapolis Colts.


While Ted spent most of his adult life in Pittsburgh, he dreamed of returning to Momence, the town he considered home. After retiring from professional football, he spent time coaching high school football. He was the athletic director for one of Pittsburgh’s most affluent schools. “I lived in Pittsburgh for thirty-one years. I loved it. I loved the people. But I always felt that this was my home.”


He credits accepting a job offer to become the Athletic Director of Kankakee Community College as the final step in completing the move he’d been plotting for quite some time. Ted shares that he didn’t decide to move on a whim but had been planning the move for years.

“I’m an outdoorsman. I wanted to build a house, so I studied on that. I wanted animals, livestock, and a big garden, so I always studied that. It was a great thing to come home.” He adds, “I always regretted that my oldest sons didn’t have the same opportunity to learn the work ethic that I did.”


After several years as an athletic director, Ted retired and now works at “the best job I can have because I love the town and people of Momence.” Ted is now Van Drunen Farms Corporate Community Liaison, tasked with working within the community to look for emerging needs as he acts as a conduit that lets Jeff and Kevin Van Drunen invest in the community.


As we wind down our time together, Ted shares one of his life’s simplest yet most profound lessons. The type of lesson that only a Super Bowl Champion could get by with sharing. “Whether it’s high school, college, or professional ball. It’s all the same. You learn the same lessons and develop the same relationships, which is beautiful. As an athlete and coach, looking back, you can work to win. You can outwork your opponent. I was blessed to grow up in this culture.”

I was blessed to grow up in this culture.
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