As I’ve said before, they just do things right at Texas Wesleyan.
So, of course, they won their first homecoming football game since 1941 — and they did so in thrilling fashion, coming from behind to defeat Lyon College with a late touchdown, 21-20.
Though it was, in reality, only the Rams’ second on-field victory (both this season) since football returned to the school, it was further indication of just how far this program has come in its second year under head coach Joe Prud’homme.
With all due respect to last season’s team — and they were a great bunch of guys who were fun to watch as they made history, fielding a team for the first time in 76 years — this season’s squad has made tremendous strides. While the homecoming win raised their record to 2-7, they are only about four plays from being 5-4.
They have three narrow road losses at Arizona Christian (29-36), Southwestern Assemblies of God (46-53), and Wayland Baptist (30-41, which was an eight-point game until a late field goal). Each could have been a win with a better bounce here or another yard or two there.
“Nobody likes moral victories, but when you see progress, that’s a good thing, and we are definitely seeing progress,” said Texas Wesleyan Athletic Director Ricky Dotson.
“They had better recruiting this year,” said Mike Chad of Foamaster Insulation, a sponsor of the Rams’ pregame tailgate activities. “It’s like a business, you’ve got to work the kinks out.”
The Rams are scoring more points and the defense has improved as well, as evidenced by their fourth-quarter stops against Lyon. The win over Lyon gave them seven straight games with at least three touchdowns.
But a closer look at the team stats reveals several other areas in which the team is much better. The Rams are within one turnover of their opponents (17-18), compared with a year ago when they had a minus-nine deficit (17-26).
This year’s Rams defense has more sacks than their opponents (24-22), compared with last year (19-31). They’re even out-punting their opponents in average yards (38-36), compared with last season (36-39).
Individual statistics are being spread around more, which is great for progress. Obviously, the more players a team can get involved, the greater the depth and the greater the overall program becomes.
In short, the Rams are on their way to being a program that should compete for conference championships in the near future. And while everyone wants to win immediately, the Rams are doing just fine with the progress they are making, said a fellow coach who knows a thing or two about winning championships.
“No one really wants to eat microwave food. They want to eat food out of the oven because it just tastes better, but that also takes time,” said Brennen Shingleton, the Rams’ men’s basketball coach, who led the team to the 2017 NAIA national title.
In fact, for many years it was during basketball season that the school celebrated homecoming. But this is Texas, and if you have a football team, folks agree that the fall is when homecoming should be celebrated.
“This is the state of Texas. Homecoming is built around football,” Dotson said. “This event is just going to grow bigger and bigger, and our team is just going to get better.”
Penny Clayton worked at Texas Wesleyan for 10 years as office manager in the Psychology Department. The Rams had no football when her son, Keenan, played for the Oklahoma Sooners and later was drafted in 2010 by the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL. She has been thrilled since the day it was announced that football would return to Texas Wesleyan.
“First football homecoming since 1941, how cool is that?” she said excitedly. “I think the football team is awesome. They’re a young team, but they’re clearly getting better. You can tell they are growing. It’s such an exciting atmosphere, being here and watching this program grow into something that will be great someday.”
And when that day comes, the players this year and from last year’s inaugural season can hold their heads high. Every solid house needs a strong foundation, which is what they are. The champions of the future can thank the winners of today — and they are winners, despite what the scoreboard often says.
“It takes a special character to do what they are doing, a self-sacrifice,” Dotson said. “But the kids are looking at it as a bigger purpose than my success. They’re building something from the bottom up.”
Like all of us who know Prud’homme, baseball coach Robert Garza said he expects nothing less from a Prud’homme-coached team. The guy knows how to win, as evidenced, and he knows how to bring out the best in his players, both on and off the field.
“There’s a very competitive product out there, and when you look at what coach Joe has done in his career [seven state championships at Nolan Catholic High School], it shouldn’t surprise us,” Garza said.
“The other day Joe was talking about the team making a huge step forward and that now another step is finishing ballgames.”
Like they finished against Lyon, the most thrilling game – and victory – the program has known in its short revival history.
But believe me, this program is far from finished. The best is yet to come.