Lonn Clementson doesn’t pretend to know everything about football.
As he sees it, he’s still green, and he still has a lot to learn.
But since Clementson moved from Minnesota to Steamboat Springs in 1971, he’s been hellbent on learning everything he can about the game of football.
Now, after years of perfecting his trade, Clementson — the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for the Steamboat Springs High School football team — has his group in the state championship game.
He deflects attention and credit. But as unheralded a group as he had coming into the season, the defense has proven to be one of the biggest differences in the storybook run to the 3A state title game.
It’s a defense that’s undersized and doesn’t have a big name on it. They’ve heard they’re too small to compete with bigger teams.
But as the small-statured Clementson did during his playing career, Steamboat’s defense always seems to play bigger.
“We’ve all played up. The mentality among the defensive staff is we’ve always played up,” Clementson said between film sessions Tuesday. “Our defense is not intimidated by things they can’t control like the other team’s size. In any kind of a competition or street fight or whatever, you have to perform or you lose. These kids are like dogs. They don’t understand the other people are different size. It’s not just defense; it’s the team. They’ve always had each other’s back.”
Clementson graduated from Steamboat Springs as an all-league defensive back in 1985. From there, he played as a defensive back at Colorado College.
With aspirations to be a doctor or pediatrician, Clementson was at a crossroads. He wasn’t sure whether the medical field was for him. He was a player-coach on a semi-pro team in 1993, before plying his trade as a carpenter.
He was the defensive backs coach in Steamboat in 1996, before finally realizing he wanted to coach.
“Coaching is teaching and teaching is coaching,” Clementson said. “I fell in love with that aspect.”
So he went back to school at Mesa State College in Grand Junction to get his teaching degree. While there, he was a graduate assistant under Joe Ramunno.
It was there he learned the most about football. Under Ramunno — who had just come off of four straight state titles with Palisade — Clementson learned more about the game.
He came back to Steamboat and was the defensive coordinator in 2000 and 2001. He took a year off, and the Steamboat head coaching position came open.
He applied and was one of the final two candidates, with current Steamboat coach Aaron Finch.
Finch got the job and asked Clementson if he would be willing to adjust from his days of a 4-4 to a 3-5.
Clementson said yes.
“The reality is we are truly a staff,” Finch said. “There is no way we’d be having the success as a program without him. He is my right and left hand. He’s helped all these guys.”
Clementson’s defenses have always been near the top statistically. This season, they’re giving up 245 yards and 14 points per game.
In the playoffs it’s even more impressive, as Steamboat’s given up just nine points a game.
Part of that is the players have been in the system for so long. But another big part of that has been Clementson’s steady presence as a coach.
“I’ll go back to when I first met Clem my freshman year,” senior defensive lineman Carl Steele said. “I instantly knew he was a great guy. But as a coach he’s progressed each and every year. He’s been at his best all week, watching film. He works so hard because he works for us. He’s one of my favorite guys. I’ll remember him always.”