Back from college ranks, Joe Ramunno enjoying second stint with Palisade

Palisade football coach Joe Ramunno roams the sidelines prior to his team's win over The Classical Academy last Friday. (Kent Mincer)

Palisade football coach Joe Ramunno roams the sidelines prior to his team's win over The Classical Academy last Friday. (Kent Mincer)

COLORADO SPRINGS — It's frequently been said, "You can never go home again." Don't tell that to Joe Ramunno. He feels right at home on the sidelines coaching the Palisade football team.

Ramunno was the head coach during the Bulldog's run to four consecutive state titles in the late 1990s before moving onto what he hoped would be greener pastures at the collegiate level — heading across the Grand Valley to take over at Mesa State College (later Mesa State University and then Colorado Mesa University).

After a 14-year run at Mesa State, Ramunno was replaced two years ago. He never lost that desire to coach, however. When the head coach at Palisade, John Arledge, offered to put Ramunno back on the sidelines as an assistant, he jumped at the chance.

It was old home week for Ramunno, back at the school he literally helped build. A year later, he was asked to assume the head coaching reins again.

When Ramunno took over for his first stint as coach of the Bulldogs, the program was in the doldrums. But a new high school was being built. Taking a page from things he'd learned as a player at the University of Wyoming and from his days on the practice squad of the Chicago Bears, Ramunno realized his first mission was for his players to get stronger.

"It was a building process," he said, both literally and figuratively.

That's why one of his first priorities was to establish a weight room at the new school.

The school was rebuilt. Now it was time to rebuild the team. His second mission was to rebuild the mentality.

"I visited a few sports psychologists, because you had to change the attitude," he said.

Still, "It took three years to get us to (a point where) we could compete," he said;..

It helped that, beginning in 1994, Ramunno inherited one of those freshman classes that got it, that understood what he was trying to accomplish. That fall began the first of four straight state title runs.

He's brought that same mentality back with his for his second run as head coach.

Ramunno admits that, dealing with high school players instead of collegians, he's had to back it down a tad.

"You have to tone it down quite a bit," he said of practices.

Still, as he said, coaching football is the same at any level. It's still X's and O's, teaching the fundamentals of blocking and tackling. It's helped that he retained much of the team's previous coaching staff, giving the program continuity.

"All these guys are good people," he said of his assistant coaches. "And they're all in it for the kids."

That's what brought him back as well. Coaching is still fun.

"It's good to be back involved in it," he said.

No matter the level, "I love working with the kids."

In his return last season, Palisade went 10-2 and advanced to the second round of the Class 3A playoffs.

This year, Ramunno's squad is off to a 1-0 start following a 36-14 road win over The Classical Academy in Week 1. The Bulldogs, No. 8 in the preseason ranking, moved up to No. 7 in this week's poll.