Mark Drake

Steady at the helm

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His scrapbooks may tell a different story, but Mark Drake says coaching football is not just about winning.

This comes from a man who has led 12 teams to the state playoffs, five teams to league titles and one to a state championship.

Drake, who will begin his 33rd year at the helm of the Sailors this fall, admits the trips to the playoffs have been special to him.

But what is even more special, he said, is the relationships he has been able to build with his players and staff throughout his career.

To this day, Drake still receives calls and letters from a number of the men who played on the state-championship squad that defeated Buena Vista in November, 1979.

One of those players, Joe Ramunno, went on to play briefly for the Chicago Bears in the NFL.

Ramunno was an offensive and defensive lineman at Steamboat and now coaches football at Mesa State College.

Ramunno says Drake has always been a father figure to him.

"He's a first-class guy," Ramunno said. "I can't say enough about him. He is responsible pretty much for everything that has happened in my life, football wise.

"He was a great coach, a great leader and instrumental in a lot of young men's lives."

Tom Southall, who also played on the state-championship team, still makes it a point to see Drake when he visits Steamboat. But for the most part, the two keep in touch on the telephone.

Southall, who coaches track at Eaglecrest High School in Englewood, came to know Drake through the Holy Name parish while Southall was a middle school student in Steamboat.

Drake is the godfather of Southall's son, Jordan.

"He was one of the biggest influences on me growing up," Southall said. "A lot of memories I hold dear from Steamboat center around Coach Drake."

The great respect Ramunno and Southall share for their former coach also lies deep in the hearts of many other Sailors players and coaches. It is not just his character they admire him for, but for the accomplishments he has made on the field as well.

Drake, a 1965 graduate of Englewood High School, played football and baseball on scholarship at Western State College in Gunnison.

He was a shortstop and third baseman for the Mountaineers, and played quarterback, safety and punter for the football team.

It was his punting, however, that attracted the pro scouts. Drake, who graduated from college in 1969, signed as a free agent with the Denver Broncos.

He did well at Denver's training camp, though he eventually was cut from the team roster. The Broncos told Drake they wanted him to play a season in the Continental League, and then have him try out again the following summer.

But Drake, mindful of the small paychecks he would have received from the Continental League, hung up his uniform and decided to take a different road.

That road led him to Steamboat Springs, where his new wife, Karen, was teaching at the high school. Mark met Karen at Western State, from where she graduated a year earlier.

Drake was offered a teaching position at the middle school in the fall of 1969. He taught there for four years and helped as an assistant high school football coach.

He worked the sidelines under Harlan Lear, and later became the head football coach in 1973.

Lear said Drake made a good first impression when he interviewed for the assistant coaching job.

"He knew his football and he was very personable and plus you could tell that he liked kids," Lear said. "He really knew the game of football."

Lear says Drake has taken the football program to new heights.

"He took a program that basically hadn't achieved a whole lot, and turned it into a winner," Lear said. "He's always finished up pretty close to the top in the league ever since he started coaching."

After 32 years of coaching, many great moments are preserved in Coach Drake's scrapbooks and kept fresh in his memory.

The Sailors made it to the state quarterfinals twice, and played in the state semifinals against Manitou Springs on Gardner Field in 1990. They lost a heartbreaker to the Mustangs, 14-7.

This past season, Drake took Steamboat to the first round of the state playoffs against Conifer, which defeated the Sailors 17-7 in Lakewood. But the Sailors finished the season with an admirable 8-3 record and with an astounding 40.7 points per game scoring average.

"This past season, I had an outstanding group of kids," Drake said. "They had good work ethics and played together well as a team.

"Nowadays, a lot of kids get caught up in the ink (newspapers). But these kids were somewhat similar to the group of kids we had back then (in 1979)."

Drake says his success also should be credited to his wife, and to his two children, Mark Anthony and Kendra.

"I just can't give enough credit to my wife for the support she has given me, and also to my kids," Drake said. "We've always been basically a football family."

Drake is now 54 years old but he says he plans to stick around as long as he continues to have a positive impact on his players' lives.

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