Sailors' Drake nominated for national 'Coach of the Year'

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— Mark Drake's office is filled with memories images of players long since graduated

Some went on to play college ball. Some just went on, but every single photograph and plaque means something to the Steamboat Springs football coach.

And while the league honors, titles and that 1979 state championship are important to Drake, it is the smiles on his office wall that matter more.

The Colorado High School Coaches Association recently selected Drake as its 2002 nominee for the National High School Coaches Association "Coach of the Year." He is one of 50 coaches from around the country up for this prestigious honor.

As a nominee, Drake will represent Colorado football coaches in the upcoming regional vote and if he is selected the top candidate from among the six or seven states in Region 6, Drake will be one of eight finalists for the Coach of the Year award.

"I guess the thing that makes me feel good about the whole thing is when I have players that come back after they graduated and you feel like you did make an impact in their lives and gave them direction," Drake said. "If I feel like I have a positive influence on their lives than that is what gives me satisfaction."

CHSCA Executive Director John Miles said Drake was nominated by the association's board using recommendations given to it by its football representatives. Bob Marken, football coach at Buena Vista, serves on that board.

Marken first met Drake in the summer of 1981 at an all-state game. Marken coached the South team and Drake coached the North squad.

"I would say a large percentage of coaches in the state know him," Marken said. "He's highly respected. He's had great teams and with that tenure he's had teams that haven't finished as well as others, but they have represented Steamboat Springs High School well."

Drake recently finished his 29th year as head coach of the Sailors. He's been with the program, however, for 34 years, serving first as an assistant. After being nominated for Coach of the Year, he was sent a form by the CHSCA to fill out to submit to the NHSCA.

It asked for his credentials. Drake had to look them up. What he found was that since he took control of the football program at Steamboat, the Sailors have won one state title, claimed the league crown five times, made the playoffs on 14 occasions and won182 overall games.

Individually, Drake has been asked to coach in the all-state game twice, including last season, and has won Western Slope Coach of the Year six different times.

"That is a huge accomplishment," former player Tony Ramunno said. "It takes a long time to achieve the number of wins a guy needs to be nominated, and a lot of coaches today don't stay at the same school. A coach that stays establishes tradition. You can bank on him winning 7-10 games a year. Now, do that for 30 years and you're talking about Coach Drake."

Ramunno, a head coach himself at Lewis-Palmer in Monument, speaks of Coach Drake as if he's still a former player. Ramunno doesn't refer to Drake by his first name or his last. He calls him Coach Drake. Ramunno played offensive and defensive line for Steamboat from 1974-1978.

"Coach Drake has a lot of energy and enthusiasm for football," Ramunno said. "I think he really understands where kids are coming from."

Ramunno's sophomore year was Drake's first as head coach. Now, the two represent each other's respective leagues at the state level and recently reunited at the all-state meetings last month.

"It's funny. He nominated me for the all-state game and here it was and I'm sitting at the same meeting as him listening to him say the same things," Ramunno said. "He nominated me to coach the all-state game."

Of course, Ramunno accepted the invitation to do so.

"I just feel real fortunate to be a coach," Ramunno said. "I enjoy going to work and being like Coach Drake."

Besides Karen Drake, Mark Drake's wife, no one may be as close to the Steamboat coach as longtime friend and assistant Bob Harris.

They have worked together for almost 30 years, but Harris said he didn't find out about Drake's honor until the night of the football banquet less than a week ago. Harris wasn't all that shocked that Drake didn't say anything about it, even though Drake has known about the honor since October.

"Our philosophies are basically the same," Harris said. "The program is kid oriented. We want to win ballgames, but the most important thing is how we treat the players, and how he treats the players reflects in the success."

Drake said he would receive word in January on whether or not he's a finalist for the national award.

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