The Columbia Raiders have bought in. For years, dating back to well before coach Jason Ward made the scene on the sideline in Columbia Station, the Raiders program was never considered one of the power programs in the area.
They’d manage a good season here or there, but they were never a team that put itself in position to host a playoff game.
That’s where Columbia sits now. The Raiders qualified for the playoffs for the fourth time in school history — their second trip to the OHSAA tournament in three years.
They host Archibold (8-2) on Saturday night — their first home postseason game.
“These kids expect to win and they aren’t at all surprised by the success,” Ward said. “They play with a lot of heart, a lot of passion and are really fun to be around.”
Columbia failed to make the playoffs last season after a strong 7-3 season. The Raiders had just 26 players on the sideline for their season finale — a 28-7 win over Clearview.
“After we had just the 26 kids at the end of last season there were some people talking about having to rebuild,” Ward said. “These kids weren’t having it. They never stopped believing in what they could do and we had a great offseason. The kids worked really hard to get ready for this season and it’s paid off.”
Ward thinks he knows the secret to the Raiders’ success.
“Continuity,” he said. “When I got here I was the fourth coach in four seasons. There really is something to be said about the kids hearing a consistent message year after year.”
Ward also thinks the Raiders benefit from a bevy of community support.
“We have great parents and a great community,” he said. “Sometimes it takes a few classes where football is of utmost importance to the families to get things on the right track. We’ve had great community spirit without much negativity.”
Any high school coach will tell you the hard work begins well before a student makes it to the high school level. Columbia has put resources into its youth programs while Ward and his staff host an annual youth football camp.
“Our youth camp has been important,” he said. “It’s cool to see some of the kids that were in our youth camp actually coming in and playing. We take the youth camp very seriously because it’s our chance to introduce our program to the kids, and let them know what to expect when they get here.”
Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.