Throughout the school year, we'll celebrate inspirational teams and athletes.
Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Rawlins had avoided setting the state record for consecutive losses with Friday's win. We regret the error.
Just one week after setting a state record for football futility, Rawlins (Wyo.) turned it around.
Rawlins, Wyo., defeated Torrington 27-17 last week, ending a 35-game losing streak. The week before they lost 48-13 to Riverton to pass the old mark of 34 set by Greybull from 1978-82.
Senior fullback and middle linebacker Wyatt Hopkins, like the rest of the team, had never experienced a varsity football win.
“It was crazy,” Hopkins said. “We stormed the field. It felt good.”
The Outlaws won the state 3A title in 2000, but hadn’t won a game since a 10-0 defeat of Pinedale on Sept. 12, 2008. Fortunately, Rawlins knows how to bounce back.
The girls basketball team ended a state-record losing streak of 76 games in 2010. Last season, the Outlaws were the runner-up at the 3A state girls tournament.
Brian Anderson has been at the school for six years, the first three as an assistant and the last three as head football coach.
“I didn’t relax until we took a knee,” Anderson said. “Through the years of that losing streak, there were several games that we were in until the end. That’s tough for kids to come that close and not get that win. This group has been mentally tough.”
Just living in Rawlins requires a little toughness. The city sits in a high mountain desert area along Interstate 80, about halfway between Laramie and Rock Springs, and gets an average of 41.5 inches of snow every year. Many in Rawlins work at the nearby Sinclair Oil refinery or at the Wyoming State Penitentiary. More jobs are on the way as the nation's largest wind turbine farm is scheduled to open next year just south of Rawlins.
As the losses for the city's high school football team piled up, there were athletes walking the halls who should have been playing football but didn’t come out for the team. Each year, the team seemed to be younger than its competitors, Anderson said.
“When you’re playing sophomores against seniors, usually the seniors are going to win,” Anderson said. “This year, though, we have five sophomores who are doing a great job for us, along with great leadership from our seniors.”
Safety and slot receiver Isaiah Jefferson, one of seven seniors, agrees.
“We have more leadership and we’re not getting down on anybody,” Jefferson said. “We treated everybody on the team as a person and not just for football. We were more of a family this year than we have been.”
Rawlins played well in preseason scrimmages and gained confidence when it played well in a 45-35 season-opening loss to Wheatland and a 52-46 defeat at Worland on Sept. 14.
“It was hard that we got that close,” Anderson said. “On the other hand, we scored 46 points. That was the first time a Rawlins scored that many points since 2000.”
On Friday against Torrington, the Outlaws took a 27-6 halftime lead and held on for the win.
“They’ve always believed they could do it,” Anderson said of his players. “Getting the win and getting it done gives them a boost of confidence. I think that gave us that little push that we needed to be competitive.”
The turnaround may not come overnight. Friday, the 1-4 Outlaws’ homecoming opponent is 4-1 Douglas. The Bear Cats were the 3A runner-up last season.
“I think administrators at the school knew when I took the job that (a turnaround) wasn't going to happen overnight,” Anderson said. “It was going to be a process. It was hard for some in the community to understand what it takes to turn a program around.”
Initially, various reports said that Rawlins fell short of the record, but that was a miscalculation. Anderson said if he had known his team already had the record, it wouldn't have made a difference last Friday.
"No, it didn't matter to any of us," Anderson said. "If they miscounted, it's not a big deal."