It’s in Tony Petersen’s DNA.
The Marshall University-Appalachian State rivalry is that ingrained.
And why wouldn’t it be?
Petersen was a record-setting quarterback at Marshall in 1987 and an assistant coach and offensive coordinator for 13 other seasons. Now he’s Appalachian State’s offensive coordinator.
Do the math.
When Petersen dons his headset in the Joan C. Edwards press box for Marshall’s game against the No. 23 Mountaineers at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, it will be the 10th time he has played or coached in this rivalry.
“Yeah, it’s in my DNA — it’s in both schools’ DNA,” Petersen pointed out. “It’s sad that this rivalry ever went away. But it did.”
The good news is the rivalry is back.
The better news is Petersen returned with it.
The difference is for only the second time in his career, Petersen actually will be coaching against the Thundering Herd in Huntington.
The first time occurred in the 2014 Conference USA championship game between Marshall and Louisiana Tech in “The Joan.” The Herd rallied for a 26-23 win and the only C-USA championship in head coach Doc Holliday’s tenure.
Petersen was LA Tech’s offensive coordinator.
“We came out on the short end there a little bit,” said Petersen, “but coming back is always special. I spent a lot of years there between playing and coaching. So, I’m always excited to come back. It’s always kind of a different feeling.
“And also to be at a place ... I know how big this rivalry (MU vs. App State) was in the past. In my opinion — it’s just my opinion — but these two teams should play every year. The stadiums are packed at both places. It’s just one of those rivalries that should always go on. Really, we should be in the same league, if it were up to me, but it’s not.”
That got Petersen’s memories flowing.
“Yeah, my junior year (1986) we lost to them,” he remembered. “And, then, in ‘87, my senior year, we lost to them (10-7 in Boone, North Carolina) during the season for the Southern Conference championship.
“But, then, we came and we beat them (24-10, again in Boone) in the third round (of the I-AA playoffs) to go to the national championship game. We played them twice that year. I think they were either No. 1 or No. 2 in the country. They had a great team.”
Then, Petersen quarterbacked Marshall into its first I-AA national championship game appearance, taking on Northeast Louisiana (now UL-Monroe). The Herd lost, 43-42, but Petersen put on a show, completing 28 of 54 passes for 474 yards and four touchdowns with three interceptions.
Just four years later, Petersen was back involved in the MU-App State rivalry.
“Oh, I mean, I have history playing against them,” he said. “And, then, when I came back to Marshall in 1991 — ‘91 through ‘98 or whatever it was — we played them every year.”
In 1991, he served as MU’s running backs coach. In ’92, he coached wide receivers. In 1993-95, he was quarterbacks coach. In ’96, tight ends coach. In ’97, back to quarterbacks coach. And in ’98, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
During that span, Marshall had a 2-4 record vs. the Mountaineers. That means Petersen is 3-6 when he plays or coaches against App State.
But, now, he’s on the other side of the ledger, since joining the staff of Appalachian State’s first-year head coach Shawn Clark.
So, what will it be like on Saturday to walk into “The Joan” and be in the visitors locker room for only the second time in his playing and coaching career?
“It will be a little bit different,” conceded Petersen. “I’m used to being there. ... Well, obviously, I didn’t play in that stadium, but I coached a lot of games there. I have had a lot of experiences there.
“But the flip side of that is I am coming in and I’m excited about a big-time game and I can’t wait to come in there and do what we can do.”
That’s because Petersen is a competitor — first, last and always.
“I love coming back to Huntington,” said Petersen. “I’m excited to come back and get to play there. Just like Shawn (a Charleston native) is excited to come back close to his hometown. That is what it’s all about. This is going to be a blast.”
It’s a present-day blast from the past.