T.J. Maynard marvels every day at the tradition of Raceland football.
He understands that when the Rams play Williamsburg on Friday in the first semifinal game in the program’s history, it’s kind of big deal.
Last week, as Maynard went out with the captains for the coin toss prior to the regional championship game against Pikeville, a gentleman stopped him on the track.
“The guy said he’d driven up from St. Augustine, Fla., and we’d better not let him down,” Maynard said.
Mike Fannin, a 1979 graduate, texted Maynard and told him he couldn’t be there last Friday because of basketball but planned on being in Williamsburg.
“Real nice guy. Just wanted to send me a message, said he keeps up with us,” Maynard said.
Text messages jammed Maynard’s cellphone prior to the game and especially afterward when the Rams defeated Pikeville 14-3 to reach the historic semifinal game.
The messages haven’t stopped since. But they’re not all messages of satisfaction.
Raceland’s fans want more to this season and so does this team.
The community has a sense of history when it comes to football especially. So many of their great teams ran into the northern Kentucky wall. Beechwood, Bellevue, Lloyd Memorial and Newport Catholic were the bullies of the Class A block. Even the greatest of Ram teams couldn’t budge them and, for a few years, they would have had to do it in back-to-back-to-back weeks. A Herculian task? It was the impossible dream.
But when the new six class alignment came out and Raceland was paired in the opposite bracket of northern Kentucky, there was hope where there once wasn’t.
“We knew we had an opportunity to do it,” Maynard said. “It still takes a lot of luck, a lot of hard work and the right matchups sometimes. At the same time, the road to get there is still difficult.
This Raceland team
will go down in history no matter the outcome of Friday’s game at Williamsburg. The Rams may even enter the game as a slight underdog, at least according to the power rankings.
But Maynard measures this particular team by the size of its orange beating heart. It’s a heart that has been broken, that has overcome some of life’s toughest blows. But it remains a heart that is beating strong on this Thanksgiving Day.
The Rams’ coach said he has many reasons to be thankful today, starting with his wife Leigh Ann and daughters Alexis and Alyssa. They provide him with strength and give up family time as T.J. delivers these Rams where no Rams have gone before.
Thanksgiving will still be at Leigh Ann’s mothers house, he said, and the big man’s appetite isn’t exactly lessened with the pressures of football on Thanksgiving weekend.
“Have you seen me?” he said laughing. “My appetite hasn’t changed.”
That includes an appetite for winning. T.J. Maynard has always been a winner. As a football and basketball star at Russell High School, as a scholarship lineman at the University of Kentucky and as a high school football coach at Greenup County and Raceland.
But until last week, that precious regional championship had eluded him just like it had the Rams.
Maynard was part of the 1988 Russell High School basketball team that went 29-4 but was upset by Rowan County in the regional championship.
“We finished the year like 29-4,” he said. “We were probably the favorite to win and didn’t finish it. It’s soemthing that stuck with me a long time.”
So when the Rams defeated Pikeville, the monkey came off the backs of Raceland football and T.J. Maynard.
“There’s been a lot of good teams,” he said. “Northern Kentucky dominance with Beechwood winning several state championships in a row kept Raceland from doing much.”
Raceland has practiced before on Thanksgiving. In 2008, the Rams played Lexington Christian Academy in the regional championship game at Rams Stadium. They lost a 20-3 lead and eventually the game 27-20 in heartbreaking fashion.
Maynard, who took over as head coach in 2010, looked at this particular team and this season as one where the Rams had a chance.
“We knew this group coming through middle school was going to be good, that we’d have an opportunity.”
Two of T.J.’s biggest fans, his mom and dad, will be watching the game on iHigh Friday night from their home in Florida. But they promised that if the Rams made it to the state finals, they’d be in Bowling Green to watch.
If that happens, you can be sure to hear Emily, his mother, cheering louder than anybody else.
It’ll be like a sweet whisper to T.J. Maynard and any other Ram within earshot.
“I’m thankful for my family No. 1,” he said. “No. 2, I’m thankful for this team, how they’ve been rewarded for all their hard work and No. 3 I’m thankful for this community and how that monkey isn’t on this program’s back anymore.”
King Kong has left the building.
Now the Rams want to make a little more history tomorrow night.
This one is for those Raceland teams before them who tried and failed against the northern Kentucky beasts.
This one is for anybody who ever put on the orange-and-black.
This one is for history.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2648.