The game of football — what it means to coaches

Fruita Monument coach Todd Casebier



Palisade coach Joe Ramunno



Grand Junction coach Mike Sirko



Central coach Shawn Marsh



Rifle coach Damon Wells



QUICKREAD

Football memories

Everyone who played high school football has special memories of the sport, the games, the teammates, the Friday night lights.

If you’d like to share some of your fondest memories from your days playing high school football, send us an email; we’d love to hear about those great times: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).



High school football can have an everlasting impact on those who cinched up cleats and buckled a chin strip. To many, football is the ultimate team game, where a single missed assignment can result in complete failure. For most coaches, the privilege to lead youngsters in this physically demanding game that requires disciple, dedication, toughness and teamwork, is an honor and they relish in the opportunity to help prepare their players to become young men.

Veteran coaches from Palisade, Grand Junction, Fruita Monument, Central and Rifle share their thoughts on what the game of football means to them.

Joe Ramunno, Palisade

Q. What is your fondest memory from high school football?

“Just the camaraderie we had as a team. We won a state title in 1979 (at Steamboat Springs). And just the guys we had with (the coaches) and all the players we had. Tommy Southall — you know, he set a state rushing record at that time with 412 yards in one game (1979). We had a good line (Ramunno was an offensive lineman), but we had good backs, too. Fred Latimer went to play at (Colorado) and Southall played at (Colorado College). We had a good group there, man. It was a salty team.”

 

Q. What is your best memory or two from being a high school coach?

“There’s so many of them. But all of the (state) championship years are always special. The first one is always special, but then for those guys to come back and, when everyone said we didn’t have anything, to come back and go undefeated was pretty special. All of those championships were special in their own way.”

 

Q. What lessons from high school football are still with you today?

“The teachings I had are basically the teaching I do today. You know, doing the right thing, doing the best that you can and treating people the way you’d like to be treated. That was something that was instilled at that time, which is still there daily in everything.”

 

Q. How would you describe your coaching philosophy?

“We’re not worrying about wins and losses. We’re worrying about developing character and getting these young men to love this game. Our game is being attacked right now, too, because it has a lot of issues we’re having to deal with. But those are things we’re just having to do. The camaraderie these guys get with this and the life-long activities they possess from all of this are well worth it in the long run. I know for me they were well worth it.”

 

Q. What are the most important principles that you try to pass along to high school players?

“You’re trying to develop and mold a young man, but what it all boils down to is treating people the way you’d like to be treated. That’s why I think life would be a lot easier for these guys if they understand that. You’re not better than anyone else, but you’ve got a lot more eyeballs on you. And you’re scrutinized a lot more, but all of that is part of being an athlete.”

 

Q. What is the one thing (or one word) that makes a good high school coach?

“It has to be someone who cares about young men. And it has to be about every player. Not just your superstars. You have to include the whole bunch. It takes everybody in this business. It takes everyone from the players to the administrators to the custodial staff and everyone else in between to create success.”

 

Mike Sirko, Grand Junction

 

Q. What is your fondest memory from high school football?

 

“I played at Center High School in western Pennsylvania. It’s called Central Valley now. Beaver County was considered one of the highest per capita for pro football players. You’ve heard of Dan Marino. You’ve heard of Jim Kelly. You’ve heard of Joe Montana. You’ve heard of Joe Willie Namath. You’ve heard of Mike Ditka. That’s kind of where I grew up, and football was king.

“The first game of my senior year (in 1971), I was a captain. It was about being out there with my group of seniors because we’d just moved up a classification and we only had about 11 of us total. Just us playing together.

“We all wound up being more successful in college than in high school. Still, I was a part of a team of guys who kept riding and playing hard. Just being there with that group of seniors for that first week after we’d been together for three years. And I think the big part of it is the team stuff, which is why I’m still coaching.”

 

Q. What is your best memory or two from being a high school coach?

“Probably my greatest was winning the 1998 state championship game with Rampart. We went 14-0, and that was after a culmination of taking over a program that hadn’t been very good. And we did it in three years, which is pretty fantastic.

“The other one was when we (Rampart) went to the semifinals against Loveland (in 2000) where my son was a senior. That was the ‘Pam Game.’ The Pam Game, baby!

“That made all the major news stations and even got on Jay Leno when he was still on the Tonight Show. (Loveland) literally sprayed their players down with Pam (cooking spray). Then they fired the coach and brought him back the next year. But they won a state title and didn’t have that taken away from them!”

Of note, Loveland went on to beat Fruita Monument in the state championship game that season.

Q. What lessons from high school football are still with you today?

“The work ethic. I think football is the one game where, they can talk about concussions and all of that, but sometimes the one thing that keeps kids away is the hard work. And those who stay to be part of a football program and the kind of football program we’re trying to build and change the culture of is that you’re expected to get after it year-round as far as the weight room goes.

“We’re excited when a kid plays another sport, but if they don’t, they’d better be in the weight room getting after it.

“That work ethic, coming from steel country when the Steelers were preaching that. It was a tougher group. Blue-collar stuff. And I still feel that works best for football. You have to put in the work to be able to contribute at the end of the year.”

 

Q. How would you describe your coaching philosophy?

“Philosophically, it’s not necessarily what you know and what you can teach the kids, it’s what they know. That’s why we try to stay simple, try to teach the game and make players more aware of what we expect out of our base offense, defense and kicking game. Once they get those things down, that’ll increase their ability to do other things. That’s why success is all about what your kids know. I believe in that wholeheartedly.”

 

Q. What are the most important principles that you try to pass along to high school players?

“Team above me. That’s huge. You’ve got to be willing to do whatever it takes to be a good teammate. It’s about being unselfish, playing where the team needs you and not necessarily where you want to be playing. The bottom line is there can only be one quarterback, there can only be one or two running backs, but there’s still a lot of places where someone can fit onto a football team.

“That’s the thing. I’ve had a lot of players who have gone on to play in college or went into the military, and that’s made a difference for all of them. Be here, be on time, work hard, and remember that if you keep grinding every day, life is going to be better. You know, the world works for those who do, not for the people who sit back. It’s for those who do. Those are the people who are successful.”

 

Q. What is the one thing (or one word) that makes a good high school coach?

“Genuine care and concern for your players. I believe if you’re in this only because of your own ego — and everyone has to have a little bit of an ego to be successful — this probably isn’t the right place for you to be. I’m here for the players and the coaches. That’s who I’m there for. I’m there for the players to try to make them better people.

“I’ve been at this a long time. I’ve won a lot of games and I’ve coached a lot of games, by now I’ve probably coached close to 400 games. My point is, it’s about what they learn in your program. It’s about making them better young men.”

 

Shawn Marsh, Central

 

Q. What is your fondest memory from high school football?

“Well, high school athletics are what made me what I am today. That’s why I do it. What I learned playing in high school (at Central), especially at that time, and being lucky enough to do it in college (at Mesa State), it’s made me the man I am today. The character traits and those types of things that you learn from being a high school athlete, they will help you be successful in everything you do.”

Q. What is your best memory or two from being a high school coach?

“My best memory as a coach — and it’s neat because a lot of the guys I shared that memory with are here — but one of the memories that really stands out is when we won our semifinal game at Stocker Stadium (as Grand Junction’s coach in 2005). When that clock ticked off and we won that semifinal game against Ralston Valley, that was definitely a memorable moment.”

 

Q. What lessons from high school football are still with you today?

“The character, the commitment. We impart on our athletes these daily character lessons and we have our core values and what we call our MVP process. We go with toughness, effort, commitment, discipline, courage and integrity. We work on those every day. Those are things I learned as a high school athlete and that’s what we’re trying to make sure our kids come out of Central High School with. My main thing, and our mission at Central High School, is to develop these football players so they can be successful now and in the future. My mission, and the coaching staff’s mission, has nothing to do with football. It’s developing these kids to be good, successful contributors in life. We happen to be able to do that through the game of football.”

 

Q. How would you describe your coaching philosophy?

“It’s not just the Xs and Os, it’s teaching kids the character traits, it’s teaching them leadership values. Once you start to get leaders within your own team is when you start to be good.”

 

Q. What are the most important principles that you try to pass along to high school players?

“It’s all the moral character traits and our core values. With all of those, we have our moral character values that go along with it. What describes toughness? What kind of moral characteristics do you have to have to demonstrate toughness? That’s a lesson plan that we do every day with our kids. That’s the next phase in being a good, successful team.”

 

Q. What is the one thing (or one word) that makes a good high school coach?

“Coaches that care about kids. Coaches that relate to kids. Coaches that treat kids good. We’re intense people and we can be intense as coaches, and of course we want to win, but we need to be able to treat kids good and we need to remember what our vision is and what our mission is. Our vision is to win league and beat the local teams, to win a semifinal game and to win a championship. But our mission is to teach kids, build their character and help them be successful. Every guy that’s on our coaching staff knows what that mission is and every guy on our coaching staff is working toward that. That’s important to me and all of our coaches believe in that.”

 

Todd Casebier, 
Fruita Monument

 

Q. What is your fondest memory from high school football?

“I guess I just remember how important it was to me and my buddies as a player (at Palisade High School). It’s the idea that you get to play with guys that you grew up with and that’s always one of the things that makes it special. You remember what you did in football. That doesn’t mean you don’t remember other sports, but even when you get with guys today you still remember what happened during football season with the guys who were on the team.”

 

Q. What is your best memory or two from being a high school coach?

“I’ve had a lot of great memories. I’m going on my 20th year as a head coach, so a lot of good things have happened. I couldn’t single out one. Every place I’ve been, including Fruita, had some really cool things happen.”

 

Q. What lessons from high school football are still with you today?

“It’s that deal where you feel like you learn something new from every team. That’s really true. You enjoy different teams in different ways and I’ve been extremely lucky. I’ve had a lot of great teams and a lot of great kids.”

Q. How would you describe your coaching philosophy?

“A huge thing for me as a coach is accountability. We want our guys to be accountable in their actions in the classroom, off the field and, of course, on the field. To me, it’s so much more about creating guys who have a chance at being great people. That’s why we do our man-builder talk. That aspect of it is a huge part of the job. That’s why we tell them ‘don’t talk back to the officials’ and ‘don’t talk to the opponent’ because that’s how you’re supposed to be good sportsmen. Be respectful of your teachers and if you’re not, there’s a consequence.”

 

Q. What are the most important principles that you try to pass along to high school players?

“Something I believe and I believe it more so now than I ever have — young men need direction and that’s part of our job. You don’t turn the other cheek when they’re not doing the right thing outside of the football field, because that’s part of our job. We take that seriously here and when guys don’t do what they’re supposed to do, there’s a consequence. Might be a physical consequence — they might have to miss games — but it’s a huge part of what we’re doing and I think it’s something that’s needed.”

 

Q. What is the one thing (or one word) that makes a good high school coach?

“Loyalty would be first. Second would be knowledge of the game. Then it’s understanding how we want it taught. Loyalty goes without saying, but they have to be able to teach it how we do it and know that they’re part of the team. There’s going to be times with everybody on the staff where we might not do what they suggest, but they’ve gotta have thick enough skin to know that they’re part of the team. There’ll be other times where we will do what they suggest. That’s part of being on a team. It’s just like the guy who gets to carry the ball or make the tackle. Our coaching staff is an extension of what we’re teaching the kids.”

Damon Wells, Rifle

Q. What is your fondest memory from high school football?

“I played in southwest Florida (at Cyprus Lake High School in Fort Myers). You know Sammy Watkins who just got traded to the Rams? I played with his dad, whose name is also Sammy Watkins. I was an all-Southwest Florida quarterback. I had decent numbers, and the truth was I don’t know if the ball ever traveled any more than 20 feet in the air. I just flipped the ball to Sammy Watkins and he did his thing, and I got a lot of passing yards out of it.

“Honestly, though, I think my fondest memory is the guys. I really enjoyed the relationships I built. Bill Curry not too long ago wrote a book called ‘Ten men you meet in a huddle.’ I think that’s what meant the most to me were those 10 guys in the huddle.”

Q. What is your best memory or two from being a high school coach?

“Honestly, it would be easy to say any one of the four state championships we’ve had the opportunity to play for here. But I think my best memories here are Tuesday mornings in the gym walking through the game plan. That’s when you’re not the center of attention and you have a group of kids who just want to be a part of something. And you have a group of adults that just want to be a part of something. That’s something I really like.”

Q. What lessons from high school football are still with you today?

“Like I said before, you don’t (at first) realize the impact of the relationships you have with your teammates, and you will some day. I have good faith that will happen. I also have good faith that, while you might not go play in The League and you might not go play college football — you might! — I think the work ethic that’s required to be successful on the high school level … will prove invaluable for the rest of your life.”

Q. How would you describe your coaching philosophy?

“Love conquers all. I think that’s the foundation of every relationship that you have. If a kid is going to trust you and if a kid is going to listen to you, they’re going to trust one another and they’re going to listen to one another. It’s not all sunshine and roses, so you’d better have a pretty good foundation. And I don’t know if there’s any foundation stronger than love.”

Q. What are the most important principles that you try to pass along to high school players?

“In this day and age, high school kids are pulled in so many different directions. Kids are encouraged sometimes, unfortunately, to specialize in one area, and the tragedy with that is you don’t create the volume or depth of relationships that you could otherwise. I think life is about accumulating the greatest number of experiences as possible. So I think that what coaches ask kids to do is worth it.”

Q. What is the one thing (or one word) that makes a good high school coach?

“No idea. No idea. I will say I think we can always get better. Never, never ever will you ever hear me imply that I’m anything better than average.”


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