Durango High School’s football team will compete in the Class 3A state semifinals Saturday for the second time since it won the state title in 2020 and ended a 32-year semifinal drought. The only other times DHS has reached the semifinals was in 1988, 1954, 1946 and 1934.
Since the 1988 season, however, one name has been synonymous with Durango football’s success: Woolverton.
“Durango football would not be where it is without them” said DHS head coach Todd Casebier.
In 1988, DHS rallied in the semifinals to come back and tie Loveland 21-21 and send the game into overtime. After Durango’s defense made a stop, sophomore kicker Ryan Woolverton booted a roughly 24-yard field goal to propel DHS into the title game.
“Being a 15-yard old kid on such a talented, senior-heavy team, more than anything I felt relief more than excitement,” Woolverton said about his winning kick.
Woolverton, who also played receiver and cornerback at DHS, eventually kicked for the University of Idaho.
After college he returned to Durango and started coaching football and baseball at the high school. He joined his brother, Chris, on the football staff. Chris was an all-state wide receiver for DHS, and Ryan also earned all-state accolades.
When Ryan’s sons, Peyton and Jordan, were old enough to play football, he started coaching them at the youth level. Ryan said he coached Peyton for three years in youth football, two years at Miller Middle School and was then asked to come back and coach at the high school again.
Peyton and Jordan both played quarterback for DHS. Peyton didn’t start until his senior year, but had a great year to earn all-state honors. Jordan started some games as a freshman and eventually scored two all-state honors. In 2020, after leading DHS to the 3A state title, Jordan became the first, and only, Durango Demon to be named the Colorado High School Activities Association’s football player of the year. Jordan, however, never really wanted to play quarterback. “Him and all of his buddies wanted to be running backs,” Ryan said.
Jordan and his friends won championships at every level and eventually won Durango High’s second state title on the gridiron.
“From the third grade on, that was the goal,” Ryan said. “It was a special class for sure. It was a competitive group of kids and a competitive group of parents.”
Jordan now plays defensive back for the University of Colorado.
After both of his sons graduated, Ryan continued coaching football for DHS.
“I love the sport and wanted to be involved,” he said. “I really believe in what coach Casebier is doing. He’s an incredible leader and a guy I want to coach for; he completely has our backs.”
Casebier also brought with him an offense that he knew inside and out, so Ryan made the switch from serving as the team’s offensive coordinator to being co-defensive coordinator this season.
“It’s been a blast; it’s easier than calling an offense,” he said. “I think being an offensive coordinator helps me a lot because I know what (formations) are hard to go against.”
Ryan still spends a lot of time to help the team prepare. Before the team practices on Monday, he watches film on Hudl, the NFHS network or on YouTube and even trolls social media to find player’s highlights. After breaking down the formations, he said he eventually starts noticing patterns.
“It’s huge time commitment, but it’s important to spend that time doing it because that’s what the program deserves,” Ryan said.
Durango’s quarterfinal opponent, George Washington, was the only team to score more than 14 points against DHS this season, and the Patriots had a couple of Division I skill players on their roster.
“Holding that crew to 28 points, I was happy,” Ryan said. “We had a very unique game plan, and the kids totally bought in.”
“I think we have one of the top two defenses in 3A for sure,” Casebier said.
The Demons will have a different challenge on Saturday when they host Lutheran in the semifinals. Lutheran runs an up-tempo, no-huddle offense that has scored more than 50 points in five games this season.
The keys on Saturday, Ryan said, are the players doing their jobs, doing them fast and doing them physical. He said the guys are all one piece of the puzzle, and each has their own role to play.
“To reach our goal, the mental piece is what’s needed because they all have so much talent,” Ryan said.
DHS will square off with Lutheran at 1 p.m. at DHS. Durango is 11-1 overall, with its only loss coming against New Mexico state finalist Piedra Vista. Lutheran is 10-2, with its losses coming against Montrose and Lutheran (Missouri).
Woolverton, Casebier and the rest of Durango’s coaches will have the Demons ready to play.
“Overall I’ve been part of this school of 20 years as a student, as a parent and as a coach,” Ryan said. “It’s a special place, and it’s been an honor to be their coach. It’s a great place to live and a great program to represent.”