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RANGELY I Last fall, Adams State University inducted one of the most successful football teams in the school’s history into its Hall of Fame. Among the players honored was longtime Colorado Northwestern Community College baseball and basketball coach Paul Conrad, a middle linebacker for the Adams State College Indians from 1960 to 1962.
The 1962 team finished with a 9-1 record on the season, earning a trip to the Mineral Bowl to face Northern Illinois University. The team claimed a 23-20 comeback victory after trailing 20-0 at halftime. Darrell Mudra, an ASU and College Football Hall of Fame inductee, headed the team.
Mudra was known for allowing players to name and call their own plays.
“We played a 1-2-2 defense,” Conrad recalled. “There were three of us in the middle, with two big heavyweights in front of me. I called the plays for the guys on either side of me, and the other two guys called their own plays based on what we were doing. It was just good defense. We played a lot of games that way.”
After playing football, basketball and baseball in Fort Riley, Kan., during two years of enlistment in the U.S. Army, Conrad sent out dozens of letters to colleges and universities, hoping to get recruited to play football. Mudra, who had never seen him play, took a chance, offering Conrad an athletic scholarship worth half of his room, board and tuition expenses.
Among the other offers Conrad had received, it looked like the best. But before he could prove himself, he had to get from his hometown of Decatur, Ind., to his new home in Colorado.
“On my way from Decatur to Adams State, I stopped at my old barracks in Fort Riley and went to sleep,” Conrad said. “My sergeant came in there and said, ‘What the hell are you doing here? You just got out of the army!’
“‘I’m on my way to Adams State to play football, and I got tired,’ I said.
“’Well, then,’ he said. ‘Go back to sleep.’”
Conrad didn’t rest much the following year, but he demonstrated that his ability and work ethic warranted a full athletic scholarship for his last two years of eligibility, 1961 and 1962. He would stay on at Adams State for another year to earn his master’s degree, then he declined to follow up on a letter from the Canadian Football League saying they were interested in him.
The last year Conrad played at Adams State, 1962, the team had just the right mix of talent, camaraderie and maturity. It was that combination that led to the Mineral Bowl win.
“It was a good bunch of kids,” he said. “A lot of us had just gotten out of the military; 20 guys of the 40 guys on the team had just got out. We were a little bit older than some of the teams, too, so it kind of made a difference that way.”
After earning his graduate degree and pursuing a career path that was linked inextricably to sports, Conrad continued making connections from his Adams State years. One teammate from the ’1962 team, Ray Sweeney, coached basketball in Youngstown, Ohio, just two hours east of North Central High School, where Conrad headed up the basketball and baseball teams. For two years, the former teammates made sure their teams scrimmaged each other.
Then, last summer, ASU reached out with another connection. It wanted to formally recognize the team for the legacy it had left more than 50 years earlier.
Although Conrad and his wife, Sharon, planned to attend the induction celebrations in Alamosa in October, weather prevented them from going. Still, this newest honor, along with his induction as Colorado Northwestern Community College’s winningest coach into the Colorado Dugout Club Hall of Fame in January2012 has brought him full circle again.
“It’s not as personal because it’s about the team, not the individual this time,” Conrad said. “But it’s still special.”