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A time to mourn: Two Cobbers enter playoffs after parents' deaths

Concordia's Olson Forum bustles with the energy of young, vibrant football players focused on playoff glory. Anonymous in a sea of maroon and gold uniforms, Cobbers running back Cory Johnson and offensive lineman Kris Peterson wait for the play t...

Concordia's Olson Forum bustles with the energy of young, vibrant football players focused on playoff glory.

Anonymous in a sea of maroon and gold uniforms, Cobbers running back Cory Johnson and offensive lineman Kris Peterson wait for the play to start.

One blocks air, the other darts through the imaginary hole like a streak of lighting. When the whistle blows, both go back and do it again.

No words are exchanged between the two former Moorhead High School teammates.

But there are no words to properly express their tragic combination of grief and sympathy.

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Cory's mother, Diane, died at Fargo's MeritCare Hospital last Saturday after a long battle with lung cancer. She was 54 years old. That same day, Kris' father, Warren, died at his home at 52.

Diane Johnson's memorial service is scheduled for Sunday. Warren Peterson's funeral was Thursday.

"No one ever wants to go through something like this," said Concordia coach Terry Horan, whose team plays Coe Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs. "When a teammate is hurting, the entire team hurts. We are surrounding these two with our love right now."

Diane Johnson always surrounded Cory with love. From the football field to the hockey rink to the track, Diane never missed a chance to watch her athletically gifted son compete.

Not even when chemotherapy sapped much of the energy from her body.

"She's played a huge part in, not only my athletic career, but everything I do," said Johnson, a freshman whose mother was diagnosed in 2003. "She's always been there for me. It seemed like she was the happiest when she was watching her kids compete. My motivation in sports has been to make her proud.

"It has been since we found out three years ago."

Diane was certainly proud.

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She beamed when Cory led the Spuds track and field team to the Minnesota state true team title. She glowed when he helped the hockey team to the state title game. She lit up with every 100-yard football game.

However, the response was the same for the second-place finishes, the injured games on the bench and the 5-yard days.

"I really don't think she had a favorite sport," said Johnson, the Cobbers' leading running back with 819 yards. "Any time I had a jersey on, she was happy. She always told me her biggest joy was watching me and my brother (Trent) play sports."

Warren Peterson was also proud.

A fixture at Spuds and Cobbers football games, Warren always made his way to field with the other parents to congratulate his son.

"His wife told me they were talking about the playoffs last week, and the possibility of going to California," Horan said. "She told him she wasn't sure they would be able to go. He said 'we will go.' That tells you the love he had for his son."

Johnson will start in the backfield and Peterson will rotate in at one of the tackle positions against Coe, Horan said.

Football, a labor of love for the duo for many years, is now a release, a chance to wipe away the tears and honor a mom and a dad.

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"I know how important this football game is," Johnson said. "But this is not just a football game. I could give up easily and just forget about football because of what has happened. If she were here, she would want me to do my best.

"I'm doing this for her now."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562

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