Football underdogs bond together as one

Poised to strike: The Bruin offense gets into its ready stance before the Providence Bowl on Friday, Aug. 26. This year, the RBHS football team recorded its third consecutive victory with a score of 33-27 in the annual matchup against its crosstown rivals, the HHS Kewpies. The Bruins attribute their success this season to a unique team atmosphere.

Poised to strike: The Bruin offense gets into its ready stance before the Providence Bowl on Friday, Aug. 26. This year, the RBHS football team recorded its third consecutive victory with a score of 33-27 in the annual matchup against its crosstown rivals, the HHS Kewpies. The Bruins attribute their success this season to a unique team atmosphere.

Jackie Nichols

Poised to strike: The Bruin offense gets into its ready stance before the Providence Bowl on Friday, Aug. 26. This year, the RBHS football team recorded its third consecutive victory with a score of 33-27 in the annual matchup against its crosstown rivals, the HHS Kewpies. The Bruins attribute their success this season to a unique team atmosphere.
A boxer since the beginning of high school, senior Josh Powell is still hitting people, but this fall it’s on the gridiron. Accustomed to fighting guys in the ring, he took his skills to tackling on the field.
Next to him is senior Austin Ray, no newbie to the sport. Ray has played football since kindergarten, starting varsity for the Bruins since half-way through his sophomore year. But this year he is preparing to play against guys twice his size as he started the season giving his verbal commitment to play football at the University of Mississippi. To any other Division I athlete, novice players would grate on their patience. For Ray, however, the bond with his teammates off the field translates to smooth sailing during pressure moments on it.
Because of a 4-6 finish in 2010, skeptics believed this year’s team would be weak at best. The Bruins could have fallen to the criticism, but instead, they turned towards their unwritten leader. Senior Bo Bell doesn’t look like much of a threat in the hallways — the 5’9”, 165 pound quarterback comes off as anything but intimidating. Once he hits the turf, he instantly transforms into a leader, a role he has dreamed of since his days at Webster Groves, Mo. His family moved to Columbia in 2009; the year before he would suit up in black and orange.
Now every Friday night he finds himself in a sea of green and gold. Though his new team lacks experience, Bell appreciates every day he gets to line up next to some of his best friends.
“The thing I love most about playing here versus my old school are my teammates. I wouldn’t trade them for the world, and if you don’t know them, they are some of the goofiest but greatest guys I’ve ever been around in my life,” Bell said. “We are definitely just as close off the field as we are on it.”
With players coming from such diverse backgrounds, most coaches would be concerned with how their team would connect on the field. Even though head coach A.J. Ofodile hasn’t touched on the subject much this year, their performance does not show it.
“There’s nothing we did program-wise that I think helps the bond. I think our guys are just genuinely friends. We have, again, a group of seniors, and those guys have been together for a long time,” Ofodile said. “Guys that don’t necessarily have anything in common on the surface end up being great friends and learn from each other. We have a pretty good thing going with that year in and year out. And this year I think you can multiply that by 10. We got a really good, strong group of guys that are focused.”
However, the boys feel more than just excitement when preparing for a game. They channel their energy and differences into one goal. The players know their bonding off the field will bring them a win in the end and, despite struggles in the past season, the team is determined to make this year one to remember.
“All of us seniors on the team have felt like we’ve needed to step it up because it’s our senior year, and we want to separate ourselves from previous years in a positive way,” Ray said. “We want other teams to look at their schedule and see Rock Bridge High School and fear the Friday night they have to line up against us.”
No matter the kind of day the guys have off the field, each one of them changes his attitude when the clock hits 0:00 every Friday night. They know that in the next 48 minutes, they have to leave everything they have on the field.
“Our senior class is a very close group already, and we look to the underclassmen as one big family too,” Powell said. “We talk to and joke around with them in the locker rooms as much as we do with our friends outside of football, but through the struggle of two-a-days, the heat and conditioning, we came out a strong team.”
Ofodile appreciates the closeness of his team and knows it will play a vital role in how far they go. Even with the differences among the players, he sees how they mesh to perform effectively on the field.
“I think with this team we could be as good as we choose to be. And that’s a fun thing for a coach to be in a situation where you have all the talent to get things done, and then how do you put the pieces together and how do the kids respond to the challenges in front of them? And that ultimately defines your season,” Ofodile said. “It’s fun. We’ve got the people and you know when we do the right things each step of the way, as coaches, as players, across the board, we can have a pretty successful season.”
By Jackie Nichols