Sopers last stand?
Former Dove Creek football coach leads South team to All-State win
It could be the end of a Hall of Fame career, but Ken Soper will have ended it in style.
The 74-year-old was selected to coach the South team all-stars in the 25th annual Colorado 6/8-man All-State game last Saturday in La Junta.
Manuel Gonzales, Granada, and Bob Schafer, Hoehne, also coached the South team at Otero Junior College.
In a game that had been dominated by the North, it was all South in the 2012 rendition.
Springfield’s Michael Crane and Jonathan England, of Walsh, accumulated for all six touchdowns, spearheading the South to a 42-0 lead. Soper and the South all-stars left La Junta with a 42-14 romp.
“It was a good game. We didn’t have any turnovers. That helped us. They had three that hurt them, especially that first one,” Soper said.
The North all-stars, coached by Soper’s good friend Chris Wolf (West Grand), fumbled the ball on the second play from scrimmage. The South was setup at the 9-yard line and Crane scored the first touchdown to quickly set the tone for the South, who hadn’t came out on top since 2001.
“It’s the first time the South has won in 11 years,” Soper said. “That gave us some incentive to break that drought.”
Crane and England were named Co-MVPs of the game, while each kid on the South was able to start.
“It’s a great experience. You meet kids and coaches from around the state. It’s not like a grudge thing or nothing. It was just a fun, good experience,” said Soper, who coached his fifth (three 11-man and two 6/8-man) All-State game. “The players were nice, respectful. Never had a bit of trouble. They were not only talented, they were real smart. They picked things up real fast.”
Each team of seniors employed a 3-4 defense. The North was also coached by Shane Zimmerman of Simla High School.
“You got see what they did and how they coach. We all chipped in and coached the way we do,” Soper said. “They got to see how you do things. I picked up a few pointers and hopefully, they did, too.”
Soper had Jaron Ragsdale, Brent Harris and Roger Liljegren of 8-man Western League champion Norwood on the South squad. Dove Creek’s Chance Johnson was selected to suit up for Soper one last time. But the former Bulldog standout reaggravated a nagging knee injury and did not make the trip.
“I think it’s an honor to have one of your kids selected to the game,” Soper said. “I feel bad Chance couldn’t play. It’s an experience he would have remembered the rest of his life.”
As a coaching experience, it’s one that never gets old and coach Soper will remember each All-State game for the rest of his life.
“I thought it was an honor. I was really glad they selected me and to be able to coach with some of the outstanding coaches in Colorado,” Soper said.
What Soper will remember most is roaming the Dove Creek sidelines for 50 years. He won’t be doing that this fall, as the Dolores County School Board voted him out as head coach.
So, what’s next for Colorado’s second all-time winningest high school football coach?
Nothing, yet, but Soper is keeping his options alive.
“If things work out and everything, I still feel I can coach. It just depends where and all of that,” said Soper, who has 305 coaching victories and is two shy of breaking the all-time state record. “I’m just leaving the doors open right now. I’ve had one offer already.”
Ultimately, Soper will always bleed Bulldog blue and yellow.
“It’s tough to coach the Bulldogs for 50 years and leave them. If I only coached three, four or five years, it would be a lot easier,” the coach said. “I’ve made my home here for 50 years. You don’t only leave the athletes, you leave all your friends in the community. But, I suppose if the right opportunity came up...”
At just 24 years old, Soper stepped into a life in Dove Creek as a coach, educator, friend and family man. He may soon be starting the next chapter of his life.
Reach Bobby Abplanalp at firstname.lastname@example.org.