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Pederson’s lack of NFL head coaching experience was noted during the search, but he doesn’t lack head coaching experience. His four years as a high school coach gave him an introduction to the profession.

“You’re standing up in front of the team, you’re addressing the team whether it be the [players], the student body, the teachers it just prepares you for situations like this,” Pederson said. “This is obviously a bigger scale. But my time as a head football coach coaching high school ball was a great learning experience. It got me kind of back into the coaching mind set, and how well can you be a teacher?”

The first step for Pederson when coaching high schoolers was realizing he was not with the Green Bay Packers anymore. Several players mentioned how Pederson needed to “dumb down” football to maximize the talent of the teenagers.

“I think by his second year, he found a good balance of giving us what we could handle, and then backing off a little bit,” said Colton Derrick, who played wide receiver for Pederson for four years. “We all knew he was going to go on to do bigger and better things and end up in the pros one day, so it was just a matter of time. But he had to learn how to put it on our knowledge level, and he did a good job of that.”

Chris Tilley, an assistant coach who spoke to Pederson on the headset throughout games, remembered a time when they discussed running a curl flat concept on several plays.

“We can’t keep running the same play the whole game,” Pederson said over the headset.

Tilley laughed when recounting the story, because Pederson found a way to diversify a high school offense. The players were still exposed to pro schemes and understood nuances that are not always learned at that level.

“I’d be watching Packers games on TV, and I’d see Brett Favre would give his wide receivers his hand signal to check to a different play, and I knew what was going on,” Derrick said. “I’d be able to tell my dad this is what they’re about to run, and they’d run it.”

Tilley said Pederson’s expertise with the players was not limited to just offense. He knew what each player needed to do on both sides of the ball, and could teach the fundamentals of the different positions, too.

“Doug’s football IQ was on another level,” said quarterback Jack Booty, who was the district’s offensive player of the year as a senior and had three brothers play in the NFL.

“As far as the experience I had with him, the wealth of knowledge in football was unlike I’d known before. We spent so much time on the little things, three step drop and handing the ball off. As far as my development as a quarterback, I learned so much.”

In Booty’s senior season in 2007,
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the undefeated Cavaliers trailed Springhill by two scores, and Booty admitted the players were looking ahead to the following week’s game against rival Evangel Christian Academy. Pederson pulled his quarterback aside and told him the team must put a drive together. Booty said he tried playing “hero” and threw an interception returned for a touchdown.

“I remember coming back to the sidelines like it was yesterday; he always had this look when you did something wrong where his chin hits his neck and he tilts his head and looks at you through the corner of his eyes,” Booty wrote in a text message. “He stared at me, and I looked back. Then he smiled real big and said, ‘Let me know when you’re ready to show up.’ ”

Calvary came back to win by 23 points. Booty said Pederson “always found a way to rally” players and make them play above their talents.

That was evident one week later, when Calvary beat Evangel to win the district championship. Booty led a game winning, 80 yard drive that clinched an undefeated regular season. That victory was the highlight of the careers of former players interviewed last week.

Wide receiver Khiry Cooper, who played at Nebraska, said the Cavaliers manipulated the opposing defense and operated “at another level because of [Pederson] with how he was able to call plays.” Wide receiver Houston Tullos said Pederson was able to “outsmart” opponents because “everyone in the area realized he was not just a high school coach.”

“Nobody gave us a shot in the world, but Doug had really broken them down,” Johnny Booty said. “The advantage was Calvary, really, because we had an NFL guy breaking everything down. He had to put us in the right position to win, and doggone it, he pulled it off.”

Pederson’s former players didn’t spend as much time talking about his coaching as they did the relationships he developed with them. He was described as a “father figure” who knew how to connect with those he coached. He also navigated between players, teachers, parents, and others around the program without issue.

“He’s genuine, he’s personal,” Cooper said. “He’s one of the guys, but on a different role. He has that respect factor. He’s one of the people you can go to outside of football, outside of the game.”

Pederson’s relationships extended beyond football hours. Derrick and fellow wide receiver Alex Lee accompanied Pederson to a local sporting goods store, and they stopped at Sonic on the way home. Pederson’s Hummer ran out of gas at the restaurant. Derrick and Lee helped push the car across the road.

“Coach P was sitting there in the front seat laughing the whole time,” Derrick said. “We had that relationship to where it wasn’t just about football. It was about more than that.”

But there were also reminders of his profile in the NFL. Favre, who was close with Pederson in Green Bay, visited the team. When players ribbed Pederson, he would loosen the right arm that threw 522 NFL passes. Cooper remembered Pederson putting up targets 50 yards away and hitting them “every time.”
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