Jordan Woolverton didn’t plan on playing quarterback. Ryan Woolverton never expected to play football. Yet their last name has become synonymous with football in Durango.
The father and son duo will see a decade of tireless work culminate at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 3A state championship game in Pueblo. At quarterback, safety and handling kickoff and punting duties, Jordan will lead the Demons in their first championship game appearance since 1988, when Ryan was a sophomore kicker for DHS after being pulled from the soccer team. And when Jordan calls the offensive plays on the field at the Colorado State University-Pueblo ThunderBowl Stadium, they will have first come from his father, who is the offensive coordinator.
The Woolvertons have become offensive gurus. But it has taken a lot of work behind the scenes.
“I wouldn’t be here in this position that I am today without him,” Jordan said. “All the hard work he’s put in for me and our team to achieve our dreams, it’s been a grind to get to where we are. We’ve built such a strong bond and friendship as a father and son through the years because of this great game. We’ve put in so much effort and time to get where we are, but we are there now.”
Ryan moved to Durango from Texas late in elementary school. He was a talented soccer player who had played in Mexico as a child. In 1987, Durango would allow ninth graders to play varsity sports if they were good enough to make varsity. At that time, ninth grade was still part of middle school. Ryan made the varsity soccer team that year as a freshman.
His football talent was discovered in gym class that same year.
“In 1987, Durango had made the quarterfinals in football but the kicker, who was a foreign exchange student, had missed a couple of kicks. At the end of the game, they had lost by the margin of one of those kicks,” Ryan said. “Steve Thyfault was our gym teacher that year at Smiley. We did one week of football in gym, and he had me kick. From there, he said I was going to play football. I told him I had to be able to play both soccer and football if I was going to do it, and they worked it out for me so I could. That’s how I became a kicker.”
Ryan would help send DHS to the state championship game in 1988, as he made a game-winning kick in overtime of the semifinals against Loveland to set up a rematch with Grand Junction in the title game. Durango would lose that game 23-13. Ryan eventually would go on to kick in college at the University of Idaho. He was a backup for two seasons to Mike Hollis, a Vandals Hall of Famer who played 10 seasons in the NFL, scoring the first points in Jacksonville Jaguars history and earning a Pro Bowl honor in 1997.
Ryan would start his junior and senior seasons at Idaho. He moved back to Durango in 1988 and was brought into coaching by Bob Hudson and Shane Voss. Ryan and his wife, Kathleen, would have their first son, Peyton, in 1999. Once he was old enough to play sports, Ryan shifted his focus to helping coach youth teams. Four years later, Jordan was born.
Jordan began tackle football in third grade. The coach, Brian Mestas, a teammate of Ryan’s during the 1988 state runner-up season for DHS, asked the group of boys who wanted to play quarterback. Nobody raised their hand.
“We all wanted to be running backs so we’d get the ball,” Jordan said. “But I remember I finally raised my hand and said, ‘I’ll do it.’ I never originally wanted to be one. Through the years, I fell in love with the quarterback position. I gained so much knowledge through being on both sides of the ball. I think it’s why I can play safety so well. Playing quarterback all these years has meant a lot to me and is getting me in a position I had dreamed of my whole life, and that is to play big Division I college football. I am blessed to say that decision to play quarterback in third grade helped me get there.”
Through the Young America Football League, the Durango teams Jordan played on lost only one game from third to sixth grade. It came in the fourth grade championship. Jordan was tripped from behind coming in from recess the day before the YAFL Super Bowl and injured his throwing thumb. He played the game but was unable to play quarterback, and the Demons lost.
The next year, the team came back and beat that same opponent by 50 points and never lost another YAFL game with Ryan helping out as an assistant coach along the way. The current seniors at DHS finished YAFL with a 40-1 record.
“For Jordan and I and the rest of these seniors, we’ve been so close and bonded for so many years,” said DHS senior receiver Gage Mestas, who was the star running back of those YAFL teams. “We’ve been able to push each other to excel in our positions and our craft. To all play together for so long through YAFL now to 12th grade, we hope to end it with one more championship.”
Their success continued through two years at Miller Middle School under the coaching of Mike Jaramillo, another one of Ryan’s teammates from the 1988 season. With Jordan at quarterback, the Angels never lost a game with two undefeated championship seasons. Ryan also helped coach those teams between duties with the DHS team as his commitment to coaching offense grew every year.
“Jordan always worked his tail off. Obviously, he’s got some good genes in there with his dad being a Division I athlete, and his brother Peyton was very athletic, too,” Jaramillo said. “The pedigree was always there. But the thing with them is that Jordan and Ryan are always working on their craft. That’s helped Jordan have the highest football IQ of anybody I’ve ever coached. He challenged me as a coach because I always had to have answers for Jordan when most kids usually just say, ‘OK coach.’ Jordan always wanted to know why. It’s because he had the benefit of having his dad across from him at the dinner table to go over stuff. ‘What do we do versus this coverage, what do we look for against this defense?’ They are constantly taking mental reps.”
Peyton said those conversations have always been normal inside the Woolverton household. To most families, it would seem like endless work. But for them, it’s routine.
“They do so much work behind the scenes. It doesn’t feel normal if football isn’t brought up once an hour,” said Peyton, who also was a Demons quarterback who graduated in 2016. “Dad always had a passion for it, but you really saw it with me in middle school or even in YAFL with us winning championships. It wasn’t to the extent Jordan’s teams were winning, but seeing the passion me and my brother had gave him reason to pursue it further. He’s been drawing up plays since I was in fourth grade. What was special is the way he was able to make kids that age understand the plays, too. That’s a task in its own.”
When DHS head coach David Vogt was hired in 2013, he called Ryan and the two had dinner. Ryan loved Vogt’s excitement and vision for the kids and was eager to join the coaching staff.
Jordan took the reins of the DHS quarterback position halfway into his freshman season. He supplanted a senior, raising eyebrows at the time. But when Jordan stepped on the field, it became clear he was ready.
“We were skeptical,” said DHS radio broadcaster Don Piccoli, who has called every Demons game for 34 years. “This is a freshman. Is he going to get the job because his dad is a coach? After one half of football against Pueblo East, Eric Anderson and I looked at each other and said, ‘This kid is the real deal.’ He deserved to start at quarterback. His reads were incredible, and his maturity level showed in his first varsity game. Watching a 14-year-old, it was impressive.”
With Jordan staring down three more years as a varsity quarterback, the Woolvertons went to work harder than ever. They attended every offseason camp possible, joined Jenkins Elite, the football training and development program in Denver led by Fort Lewis College alum and 2013 NFL draft pick Tim Jenkins. Ryan would attend and gleam as much information as he could.
“Coach Woolverton has always had great game plans for us. He loses sleep making plays for us,” Mestas said. “Through the years, he has learned how to go against any defense and put us in the best position possible.”
Jordan continued to grow and excel, earning all-state honors as a junior when the Demons reached the state quarterfinals. At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, Jordan has performed well enough to earn a preferred walk-on offer at the University of Colorado where he will pursue his Division I football dream in the Pac-12 Conference.
The Woolvertons have done it with class the entire way. Jordan is complimented by all of his opponents, teammates and strangers alike. Ryan is also well known for bringing in any player from around the Four Corners who would like to learn more about the game and throw with him and his boys. Jordan said they want to pass on the knowledge they’ve gained to future generations of DHS quarterbacks so the Demons can continue to flourish and produce more college quarterbacks.
“He’s so gracious,” Peyton said of his father. “Bayfield and Durango is this huge rivalry from an outside perspective, but he’s always been willing to work with Bayfield kids and guys from all over. Regardless if they are a quarterback or not, he wants to spread his knowledge and is super willing to do that. He does a lot behind the scenes in this community that a lot of parents or coaches don’t see. It’s a year-round effort for him. My dad is willing to give any kind of help, whether it’s football, life, love, family, whatever someone needs. It transcends the game and makes his bond with the kids he coaches even stronger.”
For Ryan, though it has taken countless hours of work, it has all been a blessing.
“It’s been nothing but special,” he said. “It means everything in the world to me to be able to be out there with those kids who have allowed me to be part of their lives since third grade. When I go to work outside and step on the field with kids, I feel like a kid with them. So many life lessons come out of football, and I am happy to be part of that.
“Quarterback is such a unique position, and both my boys took a liking to it. I dug in to learn the best I could to jump in and learn with them. When you’re the quarterback, all eyes are on you for the good and bad. But I’ve been fortunate to coach two sons who wee both all-state quarterbacks along with guys like Jeremy Szura and Terrance Trujillo, who was another college quarterback. I’m excited to keep coaching another freshman we have now (Tyler Harms) who has the potential to be another superstar. I’ve been blessed.”
After Durango’s quarterfinal win this year against Lutheran, the Demons knew they would never get a chance to play another game on their home field. After the game, the two were spotted walking off the field together for the final time. Ryan had his arm around his son’s shoulder, and both shed a tear.
Jordan hopes to have one more of those moments Saturday in Pueblo, and he wants to help put a championship ring on his father’s finger that eluded Ryan 32 years ago.
“I couldn’t be more thankful to have him in my life leading me on the path to get where I need to be,” Jordan said. “He put in a lot of work to learn the quarterback position for me, and how I play on the field is a reflection of that. It’s definitely going to be emotional to play with him as my coach one last time. I want to win this game for my dad.”