Sitting outside the locker room with game ball in hand, Zack Litteral received hugs, handshakes, pats on the shoulder and even kisses on his camouflage cap from Raceland teammates filing out of the doorway.
One fellow Ram uttered, “This one was for you.”
Raceland trounced Fairview, 36-14, on Friday night at Rams Stadium, giving the senior class its first win over the Eagles. Litteral is one of 12 senior Rams.
The running back fractured both the tibia and fibula in his left leg against Nicholas County last week, forcing him to miss the rest of the season. He underwent surgery last Saturday afternoon in Lexington.
It’s not an end to his high school career, though. Just a change of view.
Now literally on the sidelines, the Rams would rather believe Litteral is still inside the white lines with them. That was the message delivered by offensive coordinator Michael Salmons prior to kickoff.
“The thing that motivated our team the most is Coach Salmons said, ‘We don’t have 11 guys out on the field tonight. We have 12. Zack Litteral’s out there with you all,’” senior Adam Elkins recalled the pregame speech. “He said, ‘I’m always on Zack’s butt all the time, but I never questioned his effort, will to win and how much he loves the game.’
“We won with 12 players,” Elkins added. “Zack was with us the whole time.”
Fittingly enough, the 12th man wears No. 12.
Senior A.J. Joseph steered Litteral, in a wheelchair, through the inflatable Ram tunnel as Raceland took the field. Seniors Brady Harris, Austin Manis and Elkins were among those steps behind, bonded by interlocked arms and a unified goal.
“When we wheeled him out of the tunnel and all those people were cheering, you had nothing but chills the whole time,” Elkins said.
Litteral couldn’t stay put. He rolled up and down the sidelines all while Raceland rolled up points.
The Rams’ motto in 2013, as instilled by head coach T.J. Maynard, is “Deserve Victory.”
Litteral’s interpretation is this: “You have to want it to go get it. You have to have every player willing to inch by inch and yard by yard to get that.
“We have that,” he continued. “What we have is special. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
Litteral was overwhelmed by his teammates’ and community’s support this past week.
“They didn’t want it to happen to me,” said an emotional Litteral. “They knew I wanted to play.”
Manis said Litteral played with all heart, and senior Daylin Beach said hearts were broken when Litteral’s leg was broken.
“Me and Zack (and Elkins) have been in the backfield together since third grade,” Beach said. “As soon as he went down, it was heartbreak for everybody. We were all teary-eyed. Coach Maynard told us early in the week, ‘We’re going to come out, we’re going to win and we’re going to give him the game ball.’”
That’s exactly what Raceland did. And in impressive fashion.
The 22-point defeat marked Raceland’s largest margin of victory in the series since 2008, when the Rams beat the Eagles 37-12.
Beach didn’t know until Friday that no class of Rams had ever gone an entire career without beating Fairview, the school’s archrival.
“As soon as I had that, I was like, that’s not happening,” Beach said. “We wanted it bad.”
“They had a streak,” Manis said. “Now, we’re going to start one.”
AARON SNYDER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2664.