By Bo Carter, NFF Correspondent
Rams Tangle with Millsaps in First Contest at Farrington Field Since 1941
FORT WORTH, Texas – Some 76 years ago, Texas Wesleyan played its last home football game against Trinity (Texas) Nov. 15, 1941, and won 39-0 at two-year-old Farrington Field. Another 23 days hence, most of the Rams football squad headed for enlistment locations or draft boards on Dec. 8 after the Dec. 7 attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor, and the team lacked enough bodies to hold spring practice in 1942. The football program was dropped summarily prior to the ’42 campaign.
Last Saturday, replete with Southeastern Conference-like tailgaters, mobile units, new Wesleyan flags, and all the pomp and circumstance surrounding college football on any given Saturday, Texas Wesleyan hosted Millsaps – two traditional United Methodist Church colleges with 125-plus years of history – and rallied from a 26-0 halftime deficit to make it 29-13 Majors when the final horn sounded – at now historic, 78-year-Farrington Field.
The preparations, buildup and sheer joy among the Wesleyan student body, alumni and friends (purple-clad TCU fans had a strong presence while supporting their eastside neighbors) were evident before, during and after the hard-fought encounter.
Rams kicker Bryce Nye and his family had even more reason to celebrate. Nye previously was one of the first student-athletes when nearby Brock (Texas) High School began its program (his younger brother has taken his place as kicker at BHS), and his parents had a world-class motor home, crackling-new Rams blue and gold school flags and special pregame food ready for the historic day.
“This is absolutely the best day,” said Bryce’s father Steve Nye as he nibbled on tailgate food and enjoyed some cooling soft drinks. “After Bryce played on the first football team at Brock, it is just as exciting to be part of this new tradition at Texas Wesleyan. We know some TCU people who are here to support Wesleyan, and we went to see the first game back when Wesleyan played McPherson (Kan.) last Saturday (Sept. 2).”
Bryce Nye actually booted a pair of extra points on two tries after a historic Erik Richards’ 28-yard TD pass reception from a true Texas quarterback named Kane Hardin (via Irving) for the first seven points by a Ram football squad since November 1941.
Even more impressive was a tailgate alley with a live country radio station (Hank 92.1 FM) remote broadcast, several tents with Wesleyan-related alumni and support groups, a live serenade from the newly-formed Rams pep band, performances by Rams cheerleaders and the new dance line, the always-popular Chick-Fil-A stand with the Chick-Fil-A cow mascot (one press box observer noted his young children were more excited about seeing the Chick-Fil-A cow than the actual game), and display autos from the Roger Williams dealership (U.S. Rep. from the Fort Worth area and a member of the National Football Foundation Board of Directors). There literally was fun for “youngsters” from two to 92 years.
Speaking of 92 years, Elaine Doyle was one of two people recognized who returned to the site of the last Wesleyan game against Trinity. She was a 16-year-old, early-entry college freshman in ‘41 who graduated at the age of 20 in 1945 from the Fort Worth school and then celebrated her 92nd birthday at last Saturday’s event. Ms. Doyle was joined by 1947 Rams grad and World War II veteran Curtis Blair who interrupted his education to serve Uncle Sam. They were surrounded by some of the widows and other relatives of the 1941 team who celebrated the occasion.
Among the others on hand were tailgaters were the parents of punter-quarterback Colby Reed of Lorena, Texas, just outside Waco and the home of the Baylor Bears. Reed’s parents – Jody and Amy – were enjoying the ambience of the morning and afternoon and reflecting on their son’s early career. And they were treated to a modern school-record 65-yard punt by Colby Reed in the first half as the Rams kept things close until the final moments before intermission.
“Colby had kind of a tough first week punting against McPherson,” said Jody Reed, “and he worked hard all week to improve this week. We are really fired up about this season; Baylor never was an option for Colby, and he has gotten great treatment and a fine education at Texas Wesleyan. He also is the holder for Bryce Nye on extra points and field goals, and those kids really work well together.”
That duo missed by inches being another part of Wesleyan history in the first quarter when Nye hammered a field goal try off the left upright on a Reed hold. That would have been the Rams first lead in modern football history and the first three-pointer in post-1941 annals. Nye later kicked a pair of field goals and added a PAT in the second half got seven of the Rams 13 points after the break.
Still, Wesleyan’s progress can be measured in good degrees after two games. The Rams of head coach Joe Prud’Homme have outscored opponents in the second half by a composite 27-13, including a 13-3 advantage against Millasps). Take away 2-3 long pass plays and one accidentally blown coverage in the secondary on a TD pass, and the hard working Rams just might have taken the contest down to the wire against the visiting Majors Saturday. As it was, the Rams outgained the Majors 203-194 through the air for the game and had the ball almost 12 minutes more than the visitors. Hardin and Richards hooked up for their second TD aerial of the year with a 24-yarder in the third quarter.
Well coached and gang tackling like a seasoned collegiate crew, the Rams are seeking to get the running game going a bit against more experienced an heavier foes. Prud’Homme, who won seven TAPPS state championships at Fort Worth’s Nolan Catholic High School over 24 seasons, knows the ball control offense and stouter defense will come with time as the Rams prepare for their next test Sept. 16 at New Mexico Highlands in NAIA activity.
“It has been challenging and exciting at the same time,” Prud’Homme said about the restart of Wesleyan football. “There is so much paper work and procedures to get student-athletes eligible, and that is the biggest difference from high school to college football. We are blessed with an assistant coaching staff with experience from the NFL to the Big 12 Conference, so we have some great teaching aspects for this young team.”
Assistant coaches on the staff also feature award-winning journalist Marjorie Lewis who has been involved a great deal with tape breakdown, scouting reports and game preparations. The 2017 defensive assistant formerly covered professional and college sports for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Dallas Morning News for three decades before establishing the Marjorie H. Lewis Sports Speakers Series at Wesleyan in 2015. Ms. Lewis and a wide variety of Wesleyan supporters and game staff admitted to goose bumps most of the day before the home opener.
“The amount of people who worked together to make this happen was truly amazing,” said Wesleyan athletics media relations director Josh Lacy. “From the first kickoff against McPherson until the home opener toady (Saturday), it has been one of the most exciting times in Texas Wesleyan history and certainly in my career.”
“This indeed has been a wonderful day,” said Jimmy “The Saint” Christopher who is play-by-play man via Ramsports.net/live. “I have been anticipating this game since it was announced in 2016 that Wesleyan was bringing back football, and these young players and coaching staff have worked hard to prepare for the first year back.”
Other students and alumni expressed similar sentiments. “I graduated from Wesleyan in 1992 and played varsity volleyball for four years,” said booth volunteer Lisa Master. “The last 25 years I have been working in the Birdville ISD, and this is about as exciting an event I have been associated with as a player, coach or teacher over the years. You can just see it in everyone’s faces.”
Former Wesleyan baseball standout Tommy Moore (1987-91 and a graduate assistant coach for head coach Brad Bass from 1991-93) was ecstatic in pregame festivities. “I have been waiting for this for a long time,” he explained, “and this is a dream come true, especially for a former baseball athlete at Wesleyan. It is so great to see the enthusiasm on the players’ faces and the student body, which is out in force.”
Wesleyan Mortar Board president Caleb Eiland, surrounded by a group of members of the honorary fraternity at a special booth, summed up the impact of bringing back football to the Wesleyan campus.
“This is great,” he stated. “The student body is pumped. Since they announced football was coming back, enrollment has spiked. Housing is full this semester, and there is a wait list for on-campus residence halls. That tells you about the impact it has had.”
In as little time as possibly a year from now, something tells even the most casual observer that the enthusiasm and newfound experience will translate into some victories for a program, which even can boast of a 17-3 upset over TCU in 1911 when the college was Fort Worth Polytechnic. The tradition and fervor are there. In fact, the historical significance of the Sept. 9 encounter was not lost on the National Football Foundation. A NFF rep is mailing a copy of the game program to the NFF College Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Ga., for possible future display.