Luke Graham: Drake a staple of class

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Luke Graham

Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Luke here.

— Far too often in sports, legacies and careers are defined in terms of wins and losses.

But sometimes players, coaches and teams can transcend a sport.

I found out pretty quickly, former Steamboat Springs football coach Mark Drake was one of those figures.

It wasn't that Drake didn't win in his 35 years of coaching. In fact he won a lot. A state championship in 1979, state playoff appearances 14 times, Western Slope League champions six times and Coach of the Year seven times.

But by all accounts, I think if you asked a former player of Drake's about what defined his career, it wouldn't always be a win against some team in the league or a loss against somebody in the playoffs.

I'm pretty sure they'd all say that Drake's career and the success he had were all based on the relationships he had with players off the field.

Take Tom Southall.

Southall played on the 1979 championship football team and now coaches track and field for Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora. He first met Drake when he was in middle school.

On Wednesday, Southall talked little about winning with Drake. Instead he called him "a pillar of the community," remembered how he always treated him fairly and how Southall and his family consider the Drakes to be part of their family.

Heck, Drake's even the godfather of Southall's oldest son Jordan.

"He'd always interact with players on a personal level," Southall recalled. "We still talk often. He's definitely a friend of my whole family."

Or how about Mesa State football coach Joe Ramunno.

Ramunno, who had a strangle hold on Class 3A football when he was the coach at Palisade in the 90s, could hardly go a sentence without chuckling about old memories of coach Drake. If I hadn't known Ramunno played on the 1979 team, I would have thought the two were old college roommates.

Ramunno laughed about the time he cut his finger off and had knee surgery before the season and coach Drake got him ready to play. Or about the time when Ramunno was a young child and he'd try to field punts from Drake.

Even with that, the one thing Ramunno remembers best was being able to just talk with coach Drake.

"I can't say enough about him - about what he meant to me," Ramunno said. "He's a winner. He's always won and all, but the relationships are what his success has been on."

When I asked coach Drake what he wanted his legacy to be remembered by, he said he hadn't really thought about it.

In the end though, he said it wasn't always about the playoffs or the league championships. It was about the relationships.

And I bet it's safe to say there is 35 years worth of players to back that up.

- To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229

or e-mail lgraham@steamboatpilot.com

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