Steamboat Springs It's not often that you can surprise a coach who's won a state championship, six league titles, seven Coach of the Year honors and led his teams to 14 state playoff appearances.
But former Steamboat Springs High School football coach Mark Drake admits he was taken aback when he received the letter informing him of his pending induction into the Colorado High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
The ceremony takes place March 24 in Denver.
"It feels overwhelming," said Drake, who coached the Sailors from 1969 to 2003. "To be put in the same category as those same coaches I've always admired - I'm honored, very honored."
Drake said that although certain seasons - such as the 1979 state championship run, making it to the state semifinals with his son Mark Anthony in 1990 and returning to the state semifinals in 2003 with a team that was expected to finish no better than .500 - stand out from others, his career was more about the relationships he built with his players.
"It's all about those relationships you make with those kids," he said Wednesday. "It's like being a father to those kids every fall."
Drake still keeps in touch with many of his players, including those who were on the 1979 team that beat Buena Vista for the state championship.
"He definitely brought good knowledge of the sport and definitely cared about the players," said Tom Southall, who played on the 1979 championship team. "He wanted us to be successful and tried to do whatever he could do to help us get to a level above where we were at."
Drake, a 1965 graduate of Englewood High School, played football and baseball on scholarship at Western State College in Gunnison. He played shortstop and third base for the baseball team and was the quarterback, safety and punter for the football team.
He signed with the Denver Broncos in 1969 as a punter, and after a strong training camp, the Broncos wanted him to play in the Continental League.
Instead, Drake followed his wife, Karen, to Steamboat Springs, where she was a teacher.
Drake was offered a teaching position at the middle school in 1969. He taught there for four years and helped as an assistant high school football coach before becoming the head football coach in 1973.
Joe Ramunno, who played on the 1979 championship team, said Drake's strong characteristics as a coach were evident from the moment they met.
Ramunno said he can remember fielding punts from Drake and still considers the 1979 championship one of the most memorable moments of his career.
"He's a very deserving man that I really respect," said Ramunno, who is now the head coach at Mesa State College. "That 1979 year meant the most to me. We were fortunate enough to host that gold ball together."
Drake said none of this would have been possible if not for the support from his wife and their two kids, Mark Anthony and Kendra, the community and his loyal assistant coaches.
"I've been blessed to coach," he said. "I've been blessed to have the support of Karen, Mark Anthony and Kendra. I've been fortunate enough to have coached some great kids and worked with some great coaches.
"I couldn't have achieved any of this on my own."
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