Even though it's his job to be the inspirational guy, Denver South's Ryan Marini can't help but be inspired by football players.
He's seen a player lose his house to a fire and the team also had to deal with the tragic loss of teammate Davarie Armstrong to a shooting last summer. After an 18-15 win over Vista PEAK on April 17, the Ravens were voted as the top Class 5A team in the state.
They played with heavy hearts and it had fueled an undefeated regular season. Marini is the guy who takes charge of the team but he's also the first one to say it's his guys who make this team special, not the coach. Still, it takes the right kind of leader to help these young men through the tragedies that they have dealt with and push them to be at their absolute best, both in football and in life.
That was certainly the case on Saturday. After the win over Vista PEAK, Marini was named the Broncos High School Coach of the Week.
The Broncos Coach of the Week is selected in partnership with CHSAA and the Broncos. Find a complete list of winners on this page.
Ryan Marini bio
Years as head coach: 4 (18-17)
Years at Denver South: 4 (5-0 this season)
Previous stops: Lincoln assistant coach (2002-04, 2012); Heritage assistant (2005-07); Cherry Creek (2008-09); Denver South assistant (2013, 2016); Littleton assistant coach (2014-15); Denver South head coach (2017-present).
Question: Why do you coach?
Marini: To give my wife a break mostly. Honestly, I kind of have selfish reasons. For 19 years, I think the best inspiration I've found is working with DPS kids. They're the most inspirational kids that I've ever worked with in my life. And yeah, I work hard for them, but the stuff they give back to me, it's just the coolest stories and the most amazing stories. I learn about life from them because they come from such different backgrounds. It's been awesome to absorb all that and it has completely changed my life, being a coach in DPS.
Q: Why do you coach the way that you coach?
Marini: I'm a pretty energetic person. I think bringing the energy and positivity is probably one of my biggest strengths as a person. I really try to transfer that over in the classroom the same way, trying to make things fun. Social studies isn't always everyone's favorite subject, but I try to make it fun and try to bring that fun over to football and we don't get paid for this, so we have to have something. If we don't enjoy it what's the point of doing it?
Q: What do you think it's like to be coached by you?
Marini: Entertaining for sure. I tend to be a very outspoken person. I hope my players think I'm demanding, but I also hope they think I'm someone they can approach and that I listen to them and I hear from them as well. It's not just a dictatorship. It's a relationship built on trust.
Q: Coming into this year, a lot of people had Vista PEAK as a favorite to kind of dominate 5A and run away with this Season C title. At what point did you kind of have it in your head that you wanted to be the guy to get that win?
Marini: With COVID, we honestly just took a one week at a time approach, so probably not until about the third quarter. It had nothing to do with the doubt of my kids. I totally believe in my kids, we just never set it as a goal. We just said let's go out and be the best we can be because this is a pandemic and we have very little control. Let's just be the best we can be every week. Control the controllable. So when we finally got to Vista PEAK week, it was just a great week. We're not going to change anything. Let's just do what we do, make plays and see what happens.
Q: What did you see from your guys that you expected and what did you see from them that surprised you?
Marini: What I absolutely expected with this team is resilience. This team has been through so much stuff with losing a teammate, our starting d-end's house burned down last summer. There have been a million reasons to quit and the kids haven't quit. I wasn't surprised when we got down early, a couple of people started to panic, and I just looked at the kids, the mature leaders and told them to relax and do us.
What surprised me is that we're under-sized. That was a huge team for us to play. I'm always a little surprised with how physical we can be. We coach them to be physical, but when you don't weigh as much as the people across from you, I was just really impressed with how our defense stepped up physically and really stood up to the best freaking rushing offense in the state.
Q: How much can a win like this reaffirm to your players that they can do anything they want to in life, not necessarily just on the football field?
Marini: That's been the message of our program since I took over. Football is awesome and I want them all to play college football, but in the end, I want you all to be able to fight in life and do whatever it takes in life to be successful. I feel like our program is getting across better and better these days.
Q: You have a bye week this week and then you'll have that condensed playoff, how do you maintain that one week at a time mentality and also push your guys to strive for this greatness that can be ahead of them the next couple of weeks?
Marini: The biggest thing for us is just to identify why we've been successful. That's the key. When you have success, sometimes you just kind of float along, but you really have to point out to the kids, whether it's in a film session, whether it's in practice, whether it's just talking about their attitudes and lives, why we're at this moment and to keep replicating that and keep believing in what's gotten us to this point. I think that's the key and we've been a team that's said from the beginning, we have to focus on our strengths.
We're not Cherry Creek, we don't have everybody huge, big and fast, but we've got some big strengths and we really play to those strengths.
Q: In such an unpredictable year, what are you going to remember the most about what you've been through with these kids this season?
Marini: To see a group of kids truly motivated by the loss of a great friend. Being 19 years in DPS, I've seen this situation crush kids and crush teams to where they just never recover because it's such a traumatic event. To see these kids, just that their resilience emotionally and their resilience in life is what I'll never forget. Our game against Rangeview when we were honoring Davarie at halftime, we were losing and the kids just rallied again. We didn't even have a halftime meeting. We went out there and they unveiled his mural and we just sort of had a moment and the kids just bounced back again. And that's how they've been since last summer.