NEW LONDON — West Rusk’s Cayle Bickham grew tired of Tatum’s Eagle Stadium.
Though the senior quarterback enjoyed the premier venue, playing home games 30 miles from his actual home for two seasons wasn’t ideal. Nor was never being able to look around and see his team’s logo or name.
But this fall, Bickham will get to play his final season of high school football on the West Rusk campus and before legions of excited home fans. That’s because on Aug. 31, WRHS’s new stadium will make a long-anticipated debut when the Raiders play host to Harleton in the season opener.
“It’s great to be the first group to play on this turf,” Bickham said a day after walking into the stadium for the first time. “It felt great to be on the field and be able to throw on it. It was a great experience and I hope to have great memories on the field.”
Bruce Bradshaw Stadium is a 2,250-capacity beauty that features the same artificial turf used at Jerry Jones’ palace in Arlington, Cowboys Stadium. The venue, similar to Bullard’s and Carthage’s in design, has markers on the field to remember the 1937 New London School explosion.
“It’s a top of the line, first-class stadium,” West Rusk coach John Frazier said. “Every inch of the stadium was thought about, through and through. We went all over East Texas looking at a lot of the new stadiums to get good ideas.
“Plus we asked coaches and superintendents what they would do if they could start over.”
The stadium is a measure of rebirth for the West Rusk, which found itself displaced when the former Raider Stadium was condemned in 2010 because of corroded beams in the stands. Put to rest was a long and illustrious history, which included being the first high school stadium in Texas to feature Friday night lights.
“West Rusk is on the move in the right direction, and I feel like with our (new oil) refinery we are right in the middle of a big turning point,” Frazier said. “It looks like the history of our community is coming full circle. I think it’s neat to be a part of that turning point and see this evolve.”
The football program won’t be the only benefactor.
Other students can include themselves on the list as well, thanks to a multi-purpose building scheduled to open this spring. Included among the features will be new coaches’ offices, a junior high gymnasium, boys and girls locker rooms and a sixth-grade wing.
The multi-purpose building will be open to the community, who thanks to an eight-lane track will have a place to walk or jog. The stadium is scheduled to be the host site for the District 21-2A track and field meet this spring.
This should be memorable year for WRISD, Frazier said.
“We feel like, pound for pound, our stadium is just as nice and well built as the top ones in East Texas, no doubt,” Frazier said. “It’s just a relief. Those kids who are going to be seniors this year, not just the football players but the cheerleaders and band members and twirlers; they get to have something they call home.”
Junior running back George Anthony has never had a home stadium in high school.
“It feels great,” he said. “It’s really nice. We are the first group to get to play and practice here.”
Inside the lines, West Rusk returns seven starters on offense and eight on defense from a 4-7 playoff team. The Raiders are favored to challenge for a playoff berth out of District 10-2A Division II, which also includes Arp, Frankston, Garrison, Hawkins and Union Grove.
Anthony, whom Frazier described as potentially being the best running back he’s ever coached, ran for 1,064 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Bickham accounted for more than 1,000 all-purpose yards as a junior.
West Rusk, which is currently riding the longest postseason streak in program history (four consecutive year), is only one season removed from a 12-1 campaign and has combined for 33 wins during the past four seasons alone.
Following the zero-week matchup with Harleton, the Raiders’ schedule includes in order Troup (away), Big Sandy (home), Harmony (away), Union Grove (away), Arp (Longview HS), Hawkins (away), Winona (home), Garrison (away) and Frankston (home).