Dennis Peters, the man who reached thousands of students in the classroom and on the gridiron via a decades-long career at area schools, has died. He was 72.
According to his obituary, Peters, the longtime E.C. Glass coach and teacher, died Saturday at his home, surrounded by family. Former Glass athletic director Chip Berry said Peters died from complications from cancer.
“He’s always been my buddy and always been my family,” said Otis Tucker, a member of the Glass athletic hall of fame who coached and taught alongside Peters at Glass. “He will always have a special place in my heart.”
After spending nearly 30 years as a teacher and coach at Glass — three of which were spent as a head coach of the football program, after he took over to lend some stability amid a tumultuous time despite not ever applying for the gig — Peters took similar positions at Amherst County High School. There, as at Glass, he was part of a state championship coaching staff.
But Peters was most known for his work at the Lynchburg school, where he taught history.
Among those associated with the football program at Glass, Peters is known as the father of the “dog defense.” As a way to motivate athletes, and give them a standard to live up to each week, Peters, an assistant coach initially, coined the moniker for a Glass unit that was feared around the state.
Bo Henson, under whom Peters was an assistant, said Peters always pushed players “to be the best, not to let anybody score on you.”
Henson, who led the Hilltoppers to multiple winning seasons with Peters, recalled rivalry games when the defense stood staunch to produce goal-line stands in crunch time, which ultimately led to scoring opportunities for the Glass offense and to the resulting victories.
“Defense,” Henson recalled, “held us together.”
No matter what opponents threw at them, and no matter the personnel of each individual team, Glass and Peters always adjusted to find ways to win.
There’s no better example of the defense’s stren gth than in the 1988 campaign that proved historic for the Hilltoppers. In that undefeated state championship season — the only time Glass has captured the ultimate title — Peters’ “dog defense” held opponents to 4.5 points per game.
Only once did it yield more than one touchdown, when it beat Heritage 21-14. The next week, in the playoffs, Peters and Glass turned around and shut out their crosstown rival on their way to hoisting the trophy.
“We won games because of the performance of the defense,” Tucker, an assistant coach on the defensive side with Peters, said of that season and of the other successful campaigns of the 1980s and ’90s.
Peters, who graduated from Lynchburg College (now University of Lynchburg) in 1972, didn’t play college football, but he was dedicated to becoming a better coach and inspiring athletes, Tucker said.
Peters expected competitiveness — helping to implement a “challenge” system whereby those who wanted a starting spot earned it with their work in practice — and knew exactly how to keep athletes motivated.
Sometimes that took on unique forms, explained Brian Farrow, who played under Peters in the ’90s and now serves as an assistant coach with the Glass football program.
In the days leading up to the Heritage game, Peters brought in pumpkins — the orange color representing that of HHS — and dragged them around. Those pumpkins took a beating as they knocked against steps or rough surfaces. It’s how Peters showed his players he didn’t want them taking it easy on that school from across town.
Other times, Farrow explained, Peters led players in “winky, dinky dogs” chants to get them hyped up about being “scrappy,” about “attacking” opponents with their “dog defense.”
And years after he retired from Glass as both a history teacher and coach, on the field, Peters’ mindset and passion for the game remains. Farrow, now a defensive line coach for the Hilltoppers, said he still reminds his players of Peters’ “dog defense,” aiming to get them to show the same type of grit.
Peters will be remembered at the school for his passion, and for “his compassion as well,” Farrow added. Peters left a tradition of excellence and expected integrity from each of his players.
In the classroom, Peters expected the same from his students.
Kay Vaughan, a lifetime Glass booster, taught at the school around the same time as the late coach. She recalled a unique level of respect he commanded and received from students.
“I was so impressed,” Vaughan said, remembering an occasion when she visited a class he’d been teaching in the lobby of the auditorium. “He had every kid’s attention, … and [they were] just hanging on every word.”
Henson, who also taught alongside Peters, called him “probably one of the best teachers that I’ve been around and that’s been at Glass.”
Farrow, who had Peters as his 11th-grade history teacher, said Peters was one of his favorites throughout his school career, because Peters made the class easy and fun and could relate to students in any situation.
The longtime educator had impressive amounts of knowledge in the field, too, Tucker said.
“Anytime something came up that I didn’t know about, all I had to do was get on the phone with him,” Tucker said.
Teaching and coaching provided a perfect mix for Peters, Berry explained. Berry, who at 22 years old started his teaching job in the classroom across from Peters, described Peters as a comforting presence who was always willing to help.
That’s probably why, as Farrow says, “everybody loved him.” When others were asked to describe his legacy, they agreed.
Peters, who also was an avid fisher in retirement and the founder of the Hill City Rod and Reel club, couldn’t help but make friends wherever he was.
“Dennis,” Henson said, “was an exceptional person.”
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