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No Limits

UNC football student-athletes running onto the field, accompanied by disabled children during the No Limits Camp, fostering inclusivity and joy.

Ryan Mueksch
November 27, 2023

Ed Lamb, first-year head coach of the Bears football team, organized the first “No Limits Camp” in June of 2023, providing a platform for individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities to engage with UNC student-athletes for a day. Despite the camp being organized quickly in Lamb’s first few months on the job, the impact was much greater than anyone could have predicted.  

As a first-year head coach of a Division l college football team, the “to-do” list is about as extensive as the length of a football field:  

  • Hire a coaching staff 
  • Secure your recruiting class 
  • Get to know the current players on the team 
  • Establish roots in the community 
  • Build a culture 
  • Instill expectations 
  • Install playbooks 

These are just a handful of the priorities a new head coach has on his plate as soon as he takes on a new role. And given the pace of college athletics — fast and furious — it all happens quickly.  

That’s what makes the priority list of Ed Lamb, UNC’s new head football coach, that much more intriguing. 

There’s likely no one who better understands Bear football now than Eddie Gonzales, B.S. ’19, MBA ’20. After playing defensive line at UNC from 2015-21, he was a defensive line coach on the Bears staff in 2022 and then hired by Coach Lamb as chief of staff and director of football operations this year. Gonzales already earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UNC and is now pursuing a doctorate — breaking the mold as a first-generation student. His passion for the Bears is evident — as is his desire to help young men succeed — something Coach Lamb didn’t want to have walk away.  

Gonzales transitioned into his new role in January, shortly after Coach Lamb was hired. Holding a blue and gold notebook with the letter “E” on it, Gonzales flips to the first page. “This is where my notes working for Coach Lamb start,” he said.  

When asked what’s on the first page, he says, “No Limits. That was one of the very first things Coach Lamb talked to me about.” 

“No Limits” refers to the No Limits Camp the UNC football program organized on June 22, 2023. The title of the camp is fitting, because after the camp, everyone involved — players, participants and coaches — realized there truly are no limits to not only what the participants of the camp are capable of doing, but also the impact the football program can have on the Northern Colorado community.  

Lamb might be known to many as a football coach. But for him, football has never been his top priority.  

That would be family. A father of four, Lamb’s youngest son, Edward, has “completely shaped our family, in the best way possible,” he said.  

Edward is 13 years old and has autism. He is considered nonverbal, meaning he is unable to speak and has high support needs. In individuals who are considered to be nonverbal autistic, it is oftentimes difficult to determine the emotions they’re feeling.  

Edward has been at the center of Coach Lamb and his family’s lives, something that hasn’t changed since they moved to Greeley. As Edward has gotten older, Coach Lamb has realized the challenges that come with raising a child with special needs, and the sad reality that many opportunities that exist for high functioning children aren’t available for children with special needs.  

This led him to think about how he could combine some of his greatest passions — family, supporting special needs children and football — into something that would not just positively impact Edward, but many individuals and families in Northern Colorado.  

That idea became the No Limits Camp, a football camp designed to serve the special needs community in Northern Colorado. As listed in their promotional materials, “The mission of this camp is to bring the special needs community and the UNC Football community together as one.” 

“It’s totally in line with my goals for the program,” Lamb said. “From the very first meeting with our players, I told them our goal is to win multiple championships while treating people with a first-class manner. We want to change the way the community sees the football program.” 

Bringing this idea to Gonzales’ attention his first week on the job is not an exaggeration. “It was my first big task,” Gonzales said.  

Gonzales garnered support from inside and outside of the university to put this idea in motion.  

He got tremendous help from UNC’s expert faculty and staff in the School of Special Education, Lori Couch, director of development at The Arc of Weld County, and staff from the university’s GOAL (Go On and Learn) program, a federally designated Comprehensive Transition Program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Taking place at Nottingham Field in June, the No Limits Camp was less of a traditional football camp and more of a carnival-style day featuring different stations with various games to accommodate each participant. Participants engaged in a range of football-related activities from throwing footballs into buckets to making diving catches onto a crash pad and tackling dummies to non-football-related activities including a station to create your own TikTok and a station to bump, set and spike volleyballs with UNC’s volleyball team. Other kids simply blew bubbles to relax and catch a break.  

Campers were each paired with a football student-athlete and received individualized attention to “meet the participant where they were at,” Gonzales said.  

Jennifer Lieber, ’94, M.A. ’98, M.A. ’01, Ed.D. ’02, undergraduate academic advisor in the School of Special Education, created a special instructional video for the football players before the camp to make sure they were adequately prepared since the level of time and experience each student-athlete had with individuals with disabilities varied.  

“We treated it just like what we do with our playbook,” Gonzales said. “Prior to practices, we require the players to watch our videos that simulate different plays. It’s an expectation everyone watches the videos so they know what to do when we get to practice. This was no different.” 

Lamb has emphasized the importance of having a strong culture in his first year on the job. For example, he encourages players to eat meals with one another and to connect with different players each day. He works out in the weight room with the players, demonstrating there’s nothing he would ask his players to do that he wouldn’t do himself. The No Limits Camp was another example of how tightknit the team has become.  

“It wasn’t a mandatory event, but we had near full participation from our team,” Lamb said. “To see that high of a participation rate was very rewarding for me. Equally rewarding was the amount of gratitude players expressed following the camp, sharing how glad they were they had that opportunity.” 

The camp, which lasted four hours, had many highlights throughout the event. But for many, one element stood out above the rest.  

Every participant got their own No Limits jersey and just like the Bears football team does before every home game, everyone got to run through the inflatable Bear onto Nottingham Field. Unlike Bear home games though, each participant got to hear their name announced on the public address system as they ran out.  

“It was mind blowing to hear my name called out and to run through the inflatable bear,” said Hunter Shultz, a No Limits Camp participant. “I’ve never heard my name called out in a stadium before. It was a pretty cool experience.” 

Abby Bush, a sophomore soccer player, was also in attendance. Her younger brother Jackson has Down syndrome and attended the camp “with a smile that didn’t go away that day.”  

“It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced, being at the No Limits Camp,” Bush said. “It means the world to kids with special needs to do something like this — it doesn’t happen very often. These football players are like celebrities to Jackson. To know it’s my school doing this is so awesome. My mom cried at the camp because it’s such a big deal to Jackson and the other kids who were there.” 

Many tears of joy were flowing from parents that day, including from Kristin Stevenson, whose son Emmett attended the camp.  

“You feel pretty special when you get to hang out with an entire football team and they genuinely want to be with you,” Stevenson said. “They put that energy out. That’s pretty amazing for a group of 18–22-year-olds. These are the moments that build confidence so when you have a bad day at school, you can reflect on this and know you have a whole football team behind you.”  

When asked how she would sum the day up, Stevenson said, “with the word ‘joy.’ The joy in the student-athletes, in the kids coming in with big personalities themselves, the joy that enveloped these kids — every one of them came out of their shell and tried new things. I think being at this camp inspired the kids and the student-athletes were inspired by them, too.” 

Couch, who started the Northern Colorado Down Syndrome Association and has a son, Caleb, with Down syndrome, was instrumental in developing the camp. But she is quick to give credit and praise to Coach Lamb, who had the inspiration behind it.  

“To think UNC coaches and players took a day out of their training and saw value in that, it almost makes me emotional,” Couch said. “The fact that Coach Lamb knew his time being with these individuals would bring his team together and grow his program is quite overwhelming for a mom who has a kid with a disability.” 

Caleb had such a great time at the camp, bonding with those he met, that he invited the two football players he was paired with to attend his baptism this fall. “He understands that these players want to be friends with him,” Couch said. “They wanted to engage with him. It was so much more than just doing a drill. It was a real, genuine connection. 

“A lot of times when you have a kid with a disability you’re not invited to the table, don’t have a place. You almost become accustomed to not being invited or not having opportunities, being left out, not seen as capable or valuable. This was a contrary experience. The kids were included, involved and celebrated. It was beyond what I thought it could be.” 

While football camps typically come with a fairly high price tag to participate, the No Limits Camp cost only $5 for families to participate, largely thanks to the generosity of donors, including Vinny Pallone, ’07, a former captain on the Bears football team, and his wife Mandie Pallone, who have a nephew who is autistic. As soon as Vinny met Coach Lamb and heard about the camp, he was inspired to give.   

“I thought about my nephew running around the same field my brother and I played on — that was very moving,” Pallone said. “Coach Lamb’s vision is truly incredible.  

“He came to Greeley and immediately did something for some of the most forgotten people in our community. The foundation he is building is rock solid. This man is the truth.” 

The truth is Coach Lamb and his staff plan to hold the No Limits Camp again in 2024 and in future years, aspiring to make it bigger and better.  

The Bears football team hopes that participants in the camp truly feel part of the program. One way to symbolize this feeling is that any camper who wears their No Limits jersey to a home football game this fall will receive free admission to the game.   

“Inclusivity is the word of the year for our team,” Gonzales said.  

 Although the Ed Lamb era at UNC officially started on August 31 against Abilene Christian University, the first true win of the season came on June 22.   

UNC student-athletes accompanied by disabled children during the No Limits Camp.

Children playing during the No Limits Camp.

UNC football student-athletes sitting on the field, accompanied by disabled children during the No Limits Camp, f

UNC football student-athletes on the field, accompanied by disabled children during the No Limits Camp, fostering inclusivity and joy.

Coach lamb.