Auburn, Ala.--Walking off the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium on the campus of Auburn University following Ramsay’s 21-16 win over the Opelika Bulldogs for the 6A state title, Coach Rueben Nelson’s mind wasn’t on the game his team just won but on the ride the program has taken in the last four years.
A proud program that won three mythical state championships from the 1930’s to the 1950’s, Ramsay fell on hard times in the early 1970’s and that led to football being dropped in 1976. It wasn’t until 2012 that they Rams started playing football again and Nelson had the chore to start things basically from scratch.
Never mind the difficulty of just putting things back together from a player and coaching standpoint, Ramsay has no football facilities at the school and has to drive 20 minutes to practice each day, but only after 5 p.m. because that’s when the field is theirs to use but only for two hours.
Through it all this Ramsay team never lost faith in Nelson and the desire to bring a championship back to the Magic City for the first time since 1973, before the coach was even born.
Despite all the talented football players that have come out of Birmingham in the last 43 seasons, Banks High School was the last city school to win a state title. That’s the same Banks that is now a middle school. Before this season the last city school to even reach a title game came 23 years ago when West End played for a championship, yet another school that has dropped the sport.
“A lot of people said Birmingham would never win another state championship in football,” Nelson said. “But we go to work every summer like everybody else and we just want to believe. To the people of Birmingham, we’re going to bring this trophy home. It’s their trophy and they believed in us. We’re just glad to bring it home and honor the City of Birmingham.”
Led by talented left-hander Baniko Harley at quarterback and a group of players that believed in their ability to make plays, so much so that they called their own fake punt on fourth and 27 in the fourth quarter of the state title game, the Rams made it through a tough schedule that included a loss to powerhouse Grayson High from Georgia and a loss to 7A Mountain Brook.
Tested and ready for the challenge, Ramsay finished off a magical season on Friday night with a victory and Nelson said that’s what the dream has always been.
“They bought in,” Nelson said. “Their offseason was phenomenal, didn’t have to beg them to come to work. We don’t have much to work with, but they didn’t make any excuses anymore. We’ve got a talented ballclub. I just thank God for the way they played. I didn’t want this ride to end, but if it ended I wanted it to end with a state championship.
“Through it all God made a way,” he added. “We aren’t complaining anymore. We proved a lot of people wrong. The kids worked hard through it. It’s the work ethic of those kids. The assistant coaches do a great job getting them ready. It’s just one of those things.
“These kids are the best kids I’ve ever been around. The rollercoaster ride has finally come to an end, but they’ll forever be in my heart. These are the best kids I’ve ever been around in my life.”