To say there's some history within the Limon football program would be quite an understatement. The Badgers are the most successful football program in the history of the state, having won 16 outright championships, and tied for another. It's under that microscope that Limon exists: The expectation is to win.
That's something current coach Mike O'Dwyer knows a little bit about: He graduated from the school in 1980, and was part of three state championship teams. "Coach (Lloyd) Gaskill, obviously, set that expectation, and we're trying to do the best to follow that," said O'Dwyer, who is now in his 17th season leading the elite program. So far, so good this season. Limon, currently ranked No. 1, has three top-10 wins on its resume so far this season, including two weeks ago against two-time defending champion Strasburg. O'Dwyer is this week's selection as the Broncos High School Coach of the Week. The Coach of the Week is selected in partnership with the Broncos and CHSCA.
Years as head coach: 17 (156-31)
Years at Limon: 17 (156-31, 5-0 this season)
Previous stops: Limon junior high coach (1985-87); Limon assistant (1988-2001); Limon head coach (2002-present).
Question: Why did you decide to get into coaching? What drew you to it?
O'Dwyer: Well, it was actually by accident. I had played football at (Northern Colorado). I came back here, back home — because I graduated from here — and I was working and the superintendent at the time, he said, "Hey, I just wanted to let you know that you're our new junior high football coach, and practice starts on Monday." That's kind of how I got into it. It had never really crossed my mind to be a coach, so I kind of fell into it by accident. I coached junior high for three years, and then I was an assistant for 14. Dave Grimes had been the head coach for quite a few years. They asked me if I wanted to be the head coach in 2002. It kind of started from there.
Question: Was there something that made you want to stick with it? What'd you enjoy about it?
O'Dwyer: For me, it was the kids. To me, it's a kids game. And I think it's the greatest game created for boys, to help boys turn into quality young men. It teaches them that aspect of physical play, and sometimes you're a little sore and a little beat up, and every day, you have to go out there and have to overcome some of that. As you do in life: You have to overcome some of those little aches and bruises and you've just got to suck it up and go. And I think that the game really helps that transition.
Question: You guys are off to a 5-0 start, and are No. 1 in both the RPI and the poll. Not that rankings mean a whole lot right now, but have you talked to your guys about expectations and handling expectations?
O'Dwyer: We always set up our long-term goals, and really our long-term goals don't seem to really change. We always talk about we need to win our first game, and that doesn't mean the first game of the year. That means at some point, you have to win your first game. And homecoming here is such a big deal, so we have to win our homecoming game, or that's the expectation. We want to be North Central Conference champions. And then we need to win our first playoff game, because if you don't win your first playoff game, you're not going to get a second one. And then, obviously, to be a state champion.
I think that expectation level is just what is set up here. And I'm sure it is everywhere else, too, but here it's difficult with those expectations sometimes. Especially from the coaching aspect, because everybody wants their kids to be part of something really special. We've been really fortunate over the years to have that success. Even with our numbers. I think we're the second-smallest school in 11-man football. That gets really difficult at times when you play the Strasburgs and Florences and Yumas and Burlingtons, and all these schools who are going to have 45-50 kids. I think we have 33. That makes it even more tough for us to do it.
Question: How much of those expectations has to do with the fact that Limon has won the most state championships of any program? Does the community expect that excellence?
O'Dwyer: Well ... yeah. And I think that's kind of put into a lot of these young kids. These are kids of parents that went through the program when the expectation was to be a state champion. You know, back in those times, we were probably one of the bigger schools in 11-man football. Coach (Lloyd) Gaskill, obviously, set that expectation, and we're trying to do the best to follow that. I always get teased by some good friends of mine about my assistant coaches. They say, "The first question on your application is: Did you graduate from Limon High School? If you didn't, don't go to Question 2." (Laughs) Now, that's not exactly true, but I'm pretty fortunate with the assistants I have. I've got three Division I football players that are on my staff. And all four of played college football. One played at CU, and two played at CSU. So I'm very fortunately to be in a situation where I have those assistant coaches that understand that expectation.
Question: What are you expecting out of the North Central League? It's probably one of the toughest in the state.
O'Dwyer: I really think so, especially this year. It's always been very tough at the top because you have Burlington and Wray, and now you have Holyoke, who is sitting 5-0 as well. If you go through what we did in our non-conference schedule, we played Crowley, who was (ranked No. 7). and Meeker, where I think was No. 5 at the time, and we obviously played (two-time defending champion and current No. 2) Strasburg. Yuma is a much-improved ball team. And then we get Burlington and Wray back-to-back, and then Holyoke. Those three teams are probably going to be top-10 teams. You don't put a lot of stock in all the rankings, but obviously those are all very good football teams. That's going to be the hardest thing, is just to be able to go week-in and week-out to make it through the North Central Conference, because it's a fairly physical conference. With our numbers, you definitely get beat up just trying to get through your own conference. I really think that the North Central this year ... is the toughest conference out there.