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McQueen's Ken Dalton: A life of faith, family, friends and football

Hundreds honor longtime area coach Sunday


12:00 AM, Jan. 13, 2013 EST

Ken Dalton brought them out en masse once again.

The McQueen High School parking lot Sunday afternoon resembled that of a Friday night during any one of Dalton's 27 years as the Lancers' football coach. It was packed to the gills and some were forced to park in the dirt lot south of the school.

But the gym is where they headed to say goodbye to the man who built not only the McQueen football program but the Northwest Reno community. Dalton, who led the Lancers to six state championships, died Jan. 3 after a long battle with lung cancer, and approximately 2,500 -- including former players Chris Carr, Jeff Rowe, Todd Floyd and Tyler York -- paid tribute at a Sunday memorial.

"My dad was a dynamic man," Matt Dalton told the attendants. "His core beliefs surround the four Fs: Faith, family, friends and, of course, football."

Seven other speakers -- from former teammates to former players to former colleagues -- shared poignant memories that brought both laughter and tears to back Matt Dalton's point.

Faith

Dalton was a spiritual man. But his faith was not solely religion-based. He believed in his players, students and coaches -- sometimes when they didn't believe in themselves.

"Do you believe?" he shouted to his team three times before every game. They always said they did. But he also had a way of making others believe.

"The seniors back (in 1991) were a pretty rough-and-tough group of guys," Floyd said. "They were 18 going on 25. ... But that was part of coach's magic; he got them to believe in themselves. And he even got outsiders to believe.

"I remember one practice, two police officers came walking up to the field because some of those guys got into some trouble over the weekend. Coach Dalton saw them and without hesitation walked over to them. I remember thinking, 'Oh, this is not good.' He had the coach Dalton mannerisms going, with his hands on his hips, and it wasn't long before he was giving it to them. He was pointing at them and pointing at us. In about three minutes, he took two police officers and had them believing in the McQueen High School football program to where they were saying, 'Yes, coach; you got it, coach; good luck, coach.' And they left."

Family

Dalton left behind a wife, Patty, of 44 years, three children, Jen, Amy and Matt and four grandchildren.

"I am very proud to be a Dalton and everything that represents," Matt said. "I couldn't have asked for a better friend, a better mentor. He was someone I could rely on with fierce loyalty. He taught me how to be tough but compassionate, how to be competitive but respectful. But ultimately, he taught me how to always love and take care of my family."

Dalton also treated his teams as extended family.

"He put so much time into this program and so much time into us boys," said Afa Otuafi, who played on McQueen's 1990 state championship team. "He wanted his young boys to grow up to be men. ... He was definitely a father away from home."

Friends

Dalton didn't have acquaintances, speakers noted. If you knew him, you were his friend.

"He was a man of character but also a character," said Jon Sunderland, a former teammate and roommate at Cal Poly. "He threw himself a 21st birthday party at a bar where we had been drinking all summer on fake IDs."

Dalton once stole Sunderland's date. It worked out, though, as they married not long after.

Ken Cass, Dalton's longtime defensive coordinator, spoke of how in Dalton's final days he made it point to ask how Cass was doing.

"Thanks for always being there," Cass said. "Thanks for always being my friend."

Football

Dalton had a .794 career win percentage and 308 career victories as a coach at McQueen, North Tahoe and Archbishop Mitty in San Jose, Calif.

The Lancers finished 14-0 in Dalton's final season in 2008 and capped the year with a 13-12 victory over Palo Verde in the state championship. It was the program's fourth 4A title, the most in the classification until 2011.

"When I came to McQueen, I had no intentions of playing football," said Carr, who went on to play at Boise State and recently completed his eighth season in the NFL. "I was under the illusion I was going to the NBA. I remember him saying, 'You have to play football. It will change your life.' Little did I know he did directly change my life that day. I never would be in the NFL right now if not for that belief."

Dalton was a cornerback at Cal Poly. But Rick Harris, who played for Dalton at North Tahoe, recalled the time Dalton lined up as quarterback.

"He put the ball at the 3-yard line and said we had one play to keep the offense from scoring," Harris said. "'Oh, and I'm playing quarterback,' he said."

Harris and his teammates stopped the offense at the 1-yard line.

"He must have hit his head on someone's helmet because there was blood running down his head. But he said, 'That's one heck of a defense if it can stop me.'"

 

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