NORMAN — The sights and sounds from Little Axe’s first home playoff football game last season are a distant memory. Walking onto the field now, there is a different feeling.
The EF-4 tornado that ripped through this small community east of Norman on May 10 had that effect. But the different feelings don’t start on the field. The change starts on the road leading up to the school. Trees and power lines are damaged. A blocking sled lies tossed across the road from the football field. Shoulder pads and facemasks are strewn about on a hill. But it really hits home when you step on the field. The stadium lights no longer stand upright. Instead, they are slumped on the ground. The scoreboard is a scattered mess in the end zone. The home bleachers and press box are gone, except for a single beam that stands leaning to one side. The field house has been emptied and may be condemned because of the damage. After the greatest season in team history had the school and community swelling with pride, Little Axe now faces its most difficult opponent yet: trying to pick up the pieces, both literally and figuratively. They’re ready for the challenge. "It’s definitely given us a reason to work harder and stay motivated,” lineman Josh Harrington said. "We’re going to keep fighting.” The Little Axe community was hit hard in the May 10 storms. A cell phone tower was mangled, the Little Axe school administration building was blown away, homes and cars were wrecked, a grocery store was demolished, the field was damaged — not much was spared. Players were able to find shelter and avoid serious injury. After the storm, the players discovered what had happened to their field. "I was just in shock. It’s something that you think is never going to happen to you,” senior-to-be Robby Dryden said. "I had a friend text me right when it happened. And I was like ‘quit lying to me.’ So me and my dad went out there to see what we could do.” The damage pushed back the start of spring football, and now the biggest challenge for first-year coach Jason Wheeler has nothing to do with offensive or defensive schemes. Wheeler is taking over for Tony Smith, who helped energize the program in his four years at the school. Smith resigned after last season but is still the assistant principal at the high school. There is still a strong nucleus for Wheeler to build on last year’s success. Wheeler had coaching stops at Bridge Creek and Norman before becoming an assistant with the Indians, patiently waiting for the chance to be a head coach.