Numbers. Or, rather, the lack thereof.
It's rarely talked about by players and coaches, but, quite
frankly, it's the biggest factor in the outcome of every single
In all of their five games this season, the Railers have been
outnumbered by their opponents.
Which makes Friday night's thrilling 28-21 homecoming victory
over Springfield High all the more special.
With 1,450 students, Springfield High is the most populous school
in the Central State Eight conference. Lincoln is the conference's
second-smallest school, with an enrollment of 841 students. The
conference's smallest school, Rochester, happens to be a football
powerhouse that has won back-to-back state championships in Class
No other high school sport is more affected by enrollments than
football. That being the case, if the Lincoln Railer football
program is to ever break a nearly 30-year-long streak of losing
seasons, the arithmetic indicates that it will require a large
percentage of the school's best male athletes to get on the
gridiron, in order to minimize the inherent disadvantage of having
such a low enrollment relative to their opponents.
But, as most followers of LCHS athletics know, that doesn't
happen. In fact, the opposite is almost true; only a modest
percentage of the best athletes in the school play football.
I know what the obvious question is here: Why?
But, the answer to that question is best served in another
column, on another day.
To debate that topic now would be a disservice to the heroic
efforts of the athletes who did participate on Friday night.
What a victory.
What a group of warriors these Railers are.
How else do you describe a group of kids who believe so strongly
in themselves, in each other, in spite of their disadvantages?
"We have 30 kids on our varsity team. We know we aren't the
biggest team. But we also know we have the biggest hearts," said
junior quarterback Austin Krusz, who scored the game-winning
touchdown in the final seconds on Friday night. "You have to with 30
kids. We knew coming into this game, we can beat them, we can pull
off an upset. It feels great. We knew we could do it."
Perhaps no Railer has a bigger heart than senior Dane Eimer.
Listed at 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, Eimer doesn't look the part
of a heat-seeking missile playing safety, but that's what he is.
Eimer seemingly defies laws of physics every week when he wipes out
bigger and stronger players from the opposition with ferocious hits.
But that's not all he does. Like about eight other teammates,
Eimer plays both ways. He also plays special teams. He literally
never comes off the field.
So, at the end of the game, you would imagine that Eimer would be
spent, completely exhausted from running up and down the field in
such a physically grueling sport.
Yet, there was Eimer playing receiver in the final seconds of
Friday night's game. With the game hanging in the balance, Eimer
sprawled out for a diving catch to put the Railers inside the 5-yard
line. The play set up Krusz's winning touchdown.
That play and those like them are the beauty of Lincoln Railer
football, even when the scoreboard is ugly. It's about giving
everything you have for the chance to play the game you love, for
the chance to win. Not just win, but win defiantly; to win despite
so many of the cards in the deck being stacked against you on a
There's tremendous pride in that. There's dignity in that.
This team's commitment to that ideal is a credit to coach Andy
McDonald and his staff.
[to top of second column]
It's quite easy to see how the coaches have crafted their message
to the players:
Give it everything you have and you'll win some games. And when
you don't win, you'll still be able to hold your heads high,
precisely because you gave it everything you had.
"Because of the numbers, we have guys that are on the field more
than usual. We're typically not as fast or as athletic as the other
teams we play," said McDonald. "Our guys have to learn to get more
out of what each one of them has in the tank, to play as close to
that 100 percent capability level that they can."
The players have completely bought into the mindset.
Friday night's homecoming win was an appropriate reward for their
"It's an awesome feeling, knowing that we have to come out here
and battle, with our guys, knowing that they're going to have at
least 20 or 30 more people than us," said Eimer when asked what it
meant to beat the conference's largest school. "But really, we don't
think about it. Our mindset is just to go out there, play your best,
and we're not going to let up, every play."
"We want to earn our respect," added fellow senior Conner
Schmidt. "We work hard in practice and no one gets tired on the
field. There's no time for that."
Respect is sometimes hard to come by for a program that puts
players on the field who haven't seen a winning season in their
McDonald says his team has to "overcome the stigma" that comes
with being a Lincoln Railer football player.
Perhaps that's unfair, but that's reality. McDonald doesn't
pretend a stigma doesn't exist.
"These guys have grown up their entire lives and have not seen a
Lincoln football team finish the season with a winning record," the
coach said. "I credit these guys for being out here, for playing
together and working hard for each other, for the school and the
community, and putting in all of the hard work that they do.
"An awful lot of preparing for football season is done in that
weight room, sweating and grunting and doing a lot of tough work
together. That makes it so much more rewarding and special on a
night like this, knowing that they have bled and sweated together."
As someone who has spent my fall Friday nights on the sidelines
for much of the last four years, I wish more people from the
community understood the plight of the Railer football program as
they annually struggle to match up to opponents with superior
I asked the players if they thought people understood the numbers
Their answers -- no self-pity, no excuses, no whining, no
complaints -- said so much about the fiber of young men who put on a
Lincoln football uniform.
"It's hard to say. We understand it, but we try not to even think
about it," said Krusz. "We know that we have go out there -- whether
it's defense, offense or special teams -- we have to go hard. We
don't think about numbers out on the field. We just know that we
have to do our job."
"Some people might get it, but it's just about heart. This year
especially, it's a bunch of heart," said Eimer. "Everybody this year
has tons of heart. And they show it out here every Friday night."
[By JUSTIN TIERNEY]
Justin Tierney's Railer football reports