Ken Soper has watched the game of football change and evolve over a half century and hes adapted to it at every crossroads.
But one thing Soper does year in and year out is win.
Many football coaches are notorious for their loud, boisterous and sometimes belligerent demeanor on the sidelines.
The mild-mannered Dove Creek legend is very vocal with his team in practice during the week but come Friday night or Saturday afternoon, Soper is cool, clam and collected on the outside anyway. At game time, he instructs his players and manages the game like clockwork in that mild-mannered demeanor everyone knows him for.
It wasnt always that way, Soper admits.
When I was younger, I was probably more of a Yeller, than I am now, Soper said. Im just more calm, cool and collective now.
Soper then added.
I guess thats a bad thing, he joked about his present demeanor. Ive become more matured, you might say, from a young kid to an older adult.
But the coaching fundamentals havent changed for him.
I still teach basic fundamentals and I still teach the little things that make a football team. I think I do a better job of that now.
The way Soper represents himself helps his team stay mentally sharp. As the longest tenured coach in Colorado, Soper also holds the state record for most consecutive games (452) without an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Thats something I take pride in, he said. I cant get caught up in emotional stuff. Youre not going to change an officials mind, anyway. You can holler and scream all you want. Im just thinking what the next play is Im going to run. I just dont want to put my kids in a hole by getting flagged 15 yards.
The fundamentally sound play of the Bulldogs is something fellow coaches greatly admire, too.
Many times Ive coached against him, weve had better players, more talent, said Mancos football coach Kyle Graff, whos coached two NFL first round draft picks. But, weve lost. His integrity, commitment to the team and how hard they work, how hard they play, is amazing.
Along with a more matured sideline demeanor, Soper has adapted through the years.
Back when Lyndon B. Johnson was in the White House, Soper used the Full House-T (two halfbacks and one fullback behind the quarterback) offense when he started coaching.
Dove Creek runs the Power-I Formation now, but Soper has incorporated the modern Pistol and Run and Shoot offenses to his repertoire this season as well.
One thing is for sure, the Bulldogs run the ball and run it ever so concise. In football, some things are timeless.
Our veer now is similar to our T back in the early days, Soper said. We still set our two veer backs to some of the same (running) plays we did back then.
Football in the last 50 years has developed many other ways to run the football, which Soper ultimately adapted to.
We still run the sweep, but from different formations. Back then, you usually had just one formation. You didnt have as many plays, he said. Now, I got a lot of formations. Its a lot more complicated now. Back then, they said, Oh football players are just dumb. Now, you got to be smart. I give my kids a little too much to learn sometimes, I think.
A photo of Soper in his high school playing days in Oklahoma shows how far the game has come. The young Sopers helmet didnt even have a face mask.
Even the Dove Creek schools name has changed. When he started at then Dolores County High School, football players werent required to wear hip or knee pads and face masks only had a single bar. Players were required to have proper grooming etiquette no facial hair and only acceptable haircuts.
One of the biggest changes in the game is that speed and strength is the name of the game now. Back in the 1960s, players didnt lift weights. Long ago, Soper saw the importance of weight lifting for the game and developed a weight training program for his players.
You have to do weight training, Soper said. Back in those days, nobody weight trained. Now if you dont weight train, youre way behind everybody else.
One thing that the modern-era coach has a difficult time comprehending is how Soper handled the team when he was a one-man operation.
Some years, Soper had to go it alone, coaching the line, defensive backs, quarterbacks and running backs, while also treating players for injury.
He used to coach his football team by himself. I mean, thats just unheard of, Graff said.
Even today, Soper has only one assistant coach, former player Josh Hankins, DCHS Class of 1998.
I coached a JV game by myself this year and one of my kids got hurt, Hankins said. Trying to manage the game by myself and attend to the injured player, was pretty stressful. I dont know how Coach Soper did it (coach alone) all those years. Luckily a trainer for the other team came over and tended to my kid on the sideline.
Soper has always made the adjustments to the changes of the game and has continued to find success.
From a yeller to a mild-mannered approach, victories have been the one constant in his half century of coaching.