The Rudder Rangers football team won’t be scaling literal cliffs or holding a position under machine-gun fire this season, but that doesn’t mean these Rangers can’t exemplify some of the same traits then-Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder and his unit did in 1944.
The buzzword around the program this season is “grind,” and it’s an identity that the Rangers have been cultivating since before preseason practices. The team’s player council visited the Museum of the American G.I. in early August to learn more about their school’s namesake and the heroic actions of Rudder and his men during the D-Day invasion at Pointe du Hoc in World War II.
In addition to fostering team unity, first-year Rudder head coach Eric Ezar wanted his players to understand the mentality the Rangers had that day while completing their objective against near-impossible odds.
“We play as Rangers, and most of us didn’t even know the history of the Rangers,” senior running back James Ayers said. “We used that to connect it to football. It gives us a purpose to prepare. I say prepare because back in August we were preparing for the season, but right now it’s the grind. Our main focus is just grind it out every day in practice, in the heat, in games.”
The Rangers (2-1) have rallied around that mentality, especially after junior teammates Brant Roberts and Gage Schwartz were injured in a car accident before their second game this season. Both are recovering well but will miss the rest of the season.
On Sept. 6, the Rangers fell behind Elgin 29-14, but with Schwartz watching from the sidelines less than a week after the accident, Rudder mounted a second-half comeback to win 43-42. The Rangers scaled another large deficit the next week, coming back against Navasota from a 24-6 deficit with an offensive flurry for a 41-24 victory.
It’s the kind of never-quit attitude that Ezar wanted to instill in his team since he took over the program in the spring.
The combination of building a team identity based on the grind, the confidence gained from back-to-back comeback victories and playing for Roberts and Schwartz has seemingly changed the tenor of the program. These Rangers are looking to accomplish something no other Rudder football team has – reaching the playoffs.
That goal begins in earnest this week as the Rangers come off their open week and travel to face District 10-5A Division II foe Montgomery at 7:30 p.m. Friday. A likely swing game in the race for playoff spots, Rudder came out flat in last year’s game, an eventual 46-22 loss. Another big game in the playoff chase looms next week, when the Rangers host Lamar Consolidated, which debuted at No. 10 this week in the Dave Campbell’s Texas Football rankings.
Rudder is a different team from last year in many ways, not the least of which is its new-found potency in the passing game. The Rangers have fallen behind in each game so far this season and Ezar and his team know they can’t come back from multiple-score deficits every week.
“Each game we want to try to win early,” senior defensive lineman Desmond Murphy said. “We need to start the game off fast and physical. It comes down to the most physical team, and if we do what we’ve been taught, we’ll come out with the win.”
Still, the rumblings coming out of the program are more positive than they’ve been in years, and the Rangers are off to their best start since 2010, when they went 7-3 and just missed the playoffs. Perhaps most importantly, they’ve rallied around a team identity based on the ability to keep fighting no matter the odds, much like Rudder and his Rangers.
“Now that we know the history, it’s an amazing thing,” senior receiver RJ Rubio said. “He led men up the cliff with bullets flying around their brothers. It’s like us as we have people doubting all around us, we have our brothers to back us up. It’s like us going into the storm like them, and we stick together no matter what.”