Football coach talks to players on the sidelines
Fort Lupton assistant coach RJ Ramirez talks to some of the Bluedevils’ players during the first half of their team’s win against Valley High School on Sept. 15. Credit: Steve Smith / Special to Colorado Community Media

RJ Ramirez is comfortable on a football sideline. 

After all, he lettered in football at both Prairie View High School in Henderson and at Colorado State University-Pueblo. Ramirez also ran track at both institutions. He qualified for the state tournament in both football and track in high school and was a two-time conference champ in the 4-by-100-meter relay in college. 

Ramirez is wearing a different hat these days, that of a running backs coach, as well as “any position group help needed, whether it be wide receiver, defensive back or even calling a play from time to time,” at his hometown high school, Fort Lupton.  

It’s his third year of coaching and the second season with his uncle, George Ramirez, who is the head coach for the Bluedevils. 

“The most noticeable difference is definitely just the fact we have ‘Year 2 kids,’” RJ Ramirez said. “For the first time, we got a full summer camp and were able to make progress on installing (schemes)  from the previous year. I can just see that the kids are comfortable and confident this season! It’s a consistency they have yet to experience.” 

Third-year comfort

Ramirez feels more comfortable in his tasks because of the Bluedevils’ success a year ago. Fort Lupton was 5-4, the first time in nine seasons that the team’s record was better than .500. 

“Also, I no longer felt I had to earn respect or prove myself to the kids because a lot of them were returning from last year,” he said. “They knew my knowledge was valid, which gave me the ability to coach freely and sometimes harshly without pushing kids away. In this world any more, that’s half the battle.” 

Coaching wasn’t in Ramirez’s sights when he left CSU-Pueblo. 

“But after my last year in Pueblo, my head track coach offered me the head sprint coach job,” he said. “That was definitely the push for me to begin my coaching career. Because if he felt I was knowledgeable enough to coach at one of the best Division II track programs in the nation, then I figured I’d be all right at the high-school level. So, a full thanks to coach (Matt) Morris. It’s his doing, and I’m forever grateful for that job offer.” 

Fort Lupton assistant coach RJ Ramirez chats with player Frankie Flores during the Bluedevils' homecoming win against Valley High School on Sept. 15.
Fort Lupton assistant coach RJ Ramirez chats with player Frankie Flores during the Bluedevils’ homecoming win against Valley High School on Sept. 15 / Steve Smith

It comes naturally

Ramirez was the head sprint coach for Fort Lupton’s track-and-field team in the spring. His family has a wrestling background. His cousin, Saul Guerrero, was a three-time state champion at Fort Lupton. Guerrero’s son, Royce, is on the football team this year. It’s a family tradition.  

“Although I was solid in wrestling, I can’t put up a facade and act like I belong on the mats,” Ramirez said. “Last spring on the track, I was truly in my element. Track is my niche, and I love that it’s not political. Being able to see kids light up with every PR (personal record), knowing it was the work they put in that produced those results, I can’t get enough … I’m looking forward to coaching both football and track for many years to come.” 

Ramirez pulls his style from coaches who taught him. 

“I’d like to think – with all the pieces I’ve taken from the many coaches I’ve had over the years – that I’m still very different,” Ramirez said. “I feel because of my age and experience, I approach the game differently than most. I don’t ever try to be something I’m not or put on a ‘coach’s demeanor’ when I’m out there. I think it’s too easy to lose kids nowadays if you try to take that approach.  

“I remember in college running sprint clinics by myself, as well as implementing my strength training degree to even my own teammates,” he continued. “Until I showed up for practice in the fall, a majority of the CSU-Pueblo football team was calling me ‘coach,’ completely unaware I’d be wearing the same uniform as them. And I think it’s that level of respect and appreciation that molded my coaching style. It was a real shock to my college football teammates, however.” 

Ramirez, who is almost 28, became more comfortable in a coaching role, whether it was people his own age or those who were younger. As he did, he became more confident he could coach in high school, and conceivably at higher levels also.  

“With that being said, coaching high-school kids is fun,” he said. “I enjoy it because I’m only 10 years removed from high school … it makes it easy.” 

Ramirez’s hopes for 2023 are simple. He wants the football team to do better than last year and to “make them believe.” Fort Lupton is 1-2 so far, but it’s a long season.  

“We’re off to a rough start but that’s a part of it, battling through adversity,” Ramirez said. “Football reveals character, it doesn’t build it. We want kids to be able to check themselves and correct themselves. We believe it’s the best thing for our kids. Everyone’s learning quickly that Fort Lupton will no longer just roll over, that Bluedevils never go away and can battle through adversity. We want all of our kids to believe in themselves. That’s our goal for the squad.” 

Back to a special place

“I just want to extend my gratitude to the entire city of Fort Lupton,” Ramirez said. “Thank you for embracing what my uncle and I provide and want for these kids. I want to say that all of us coaches are grateful for the trust and encouragement. We truly want nothing but the best for these kids, and we aren’t going anywhere. That’s our job, and we will exceed expectations.”  

He’s doing the coaching routine in his hometown, which makes the experience that much more special. 

“It’s truly a blessing to be able to give back to my community and my city,” Ramirez said. “Every game, I do a chant with our players, a chant that reminds them who we fight for. I say ‘For this city,’ and the kids repeat with ‘for my city.’ You know, as a small and less fortunate city, our pride never wavers. It’s probably the main reason I didn’t accept a collegiate position. Having an opportunity to guide my people took priority over coaching kids who’ve already ‘made it out,’ if that makes sense.” 

Fort Lupton assistant coach RJ Ramirez, right, and player Tristan LaRue survey the course of play during the Bluedevils' homecoming win against Valley High School on Sept. 15.
Fort Lupton assistant coach RJ Ramirez, right, and player Tristan LaRue survey the course of play during the Bluedevils’ homecoming win against Valley High School on Sept. 15 / Steve Smith

The city loves him back, he said, and he tries to inspire his players by showing them Fort Lupton has something to prove every time they take the field.  

“Being from the same city gives validation that you can do it, too, because I’m proof,” he said. “You know, there’s an unspoken truth about the people of Fort Lupton that I’ll touch on briefly. Every person who was raised here feels like an underdog because we are. Mostly everyone from this city didn’t grow up with much. To be honest, it’s a chip on our community’s shoulder because we are surrounded by cities who have it ‘better,’ surrounded by cities that may look down on us. You can only imagine how that lights a fire under our behinds.” 

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