There’s a revival on the Lyman Ward Military Academy campus, but it’s not at the school’s Dixon All-Faith Chapel.
No, just north of the chapel at Ranger Field is a program rising from the ashes after years of futility on the gridiron.
On Sept. 24, the Lyman Ward Rangers captured their first win since 2011 with a 20-2 home victory, a first since 2010, over Lighthouse Christian. Not content with that one bit of history, the Rangers defeated North River Christian 44-38 on Oct. 9 for their first homecoming win in 26 years.
For Rangers Coach Richard Oliver, the pair of wins in LWMA’s first season of 8-man football is a sign that the team is finally reaping the harvest of all the good it has done on and off the field.
“One thing I think we’re doing more than anything else is we’re honoring God in everything we do,” Oliver said. “I make sure we’re praying after practices, and really just our devotion time has been phenomenal. We’re quoting Galatians 6:9, and telling them don’t get tired of doing good because at the proper time we’ll reap the harvest if we don’t give up.”
And the harvest has come at just the right time for a Rangers team that now sits 2-3 with two games remaining.
Oliver said the victories have done wonders to bring joy back into the game for the team.
“Their eyes have been opened. Some of these boys have been going through a couple of years of losing,” Oliver said. “Now, getting that first win and that taste, has been phenomenal. And they’re having a blast doing it. They’re enjoying what they’re doing every minute that they’re out there. Football is fun again for them.”
Winning has also turned what was once a rag-tag group of Rangers into a band of brothers, as Oliver said a few players who have endured the brunt of the losing streak have taken on key leadership roles.
“Bralen Hardy is our senior quarterback. He’s really stepped up and filled that leadership role. Between him, Jonathan Jackson and Alberto Burton, they’ve really stepped up and done what we’ve asked them to,” Oliver said. “They’ve been the three guys that have endured this losing streak, so it was big for them to be able to get over that hump and really push through.”
Hardy said the joy of coming together as one unit has meant everything during this stretch of the season.
“It means everything to me. First of all, there are different levels to it, different motivations as far as making history because one of the games we won was homecoming,” Hardy said. “That meant a lot to us as players, as coaches, our military department and fans and parents coming to see their children out here on the field working together as brothers. That’s what this school is all about. Seeing that come together was a very nice thing and very important to all of us.”
Jackson said winning has served to change the culture into one that is positive and uplifting.
“It was great for me to be a part of making history on the team and the first time in 26 years winning a homecoming game,” Jackson said. “It just felt great to have everybody be together and uplifting each other on the field instead of arguing and bringing each other down. It was really a great win.”
And for Burton, the feeling of being a winner is unexplainable.
“It feels amazing. It’s hard to explain because we haven’t had the feeling in a long time,” Burton said. “We’ve been working together and we feel more like a family than before. It used to be everyone was out there playing for themselves or trying to make that big play to make themselves look good. Now, we’re working as a team, a family and we’re getting stuff done.”
Part of the challenge this season has been trying to win while also learning a new style of football, Oliver said, but things are turning in the right direction after a challenging start.
“Going from 11-man to 8-man, I spent the first game wondering where my tackles were, but I had to remind myself constantly that there are no tackles out there, especially on offense,” Oliver said. “It hasn’t been that big of a transition, but looking at the season as a whole it has been a bit of a transition because it’s such a faster game. We went from the 54-yard wide field to where we’ve cut it down to 40. We’re still running 100 yards, but cutting it down that much has been a learning curve.
“But the boys have caught it. Everything we’ve thrown at them, they’ve caught on to it. We’re running a much better offense now. It’s been a good transition.”
Rangers defensive coordinator Brian Reiselbara said the game is a lot faster, but that winning has helped the team adapt and play together.
“It’s been interesting and it’s been different because it’s a faster moving game, and in some cases you play on a smaller field. This game moves a lot faster and it’s almost like Arena Football,” Reiselbara said. “Seeing them come together as a team where we came from behind to win, that’s when you start to see the team gel, and that’s really exciting.”
With two games left, both away on Oct. 16 and Oct. 23, Oliver said the Rangers are not ready to stop winning.
“We’ve got two games left. This week we play at Hope Christian up in Alabaster and then we finish the season up in Huntsville,” Oliver said. “Basically, we don’t want to get complacent. Complacency is a huge killer. So, basically we want to ride that winning wave as far as we can.”
And if the wins keep coming, it is only going to bring the Rangers closer together.
“It’s really brought us together as a team, as brothers and as a family to show each other individually that they can do it and we can work together,” Hardy said. “It’s really a space where all of our guys can come together and forget about everything, and get on the same page because everyone has a common goal to win. For everyone to come together like that is always a good thing.”