“It was a long ride,” acknowledged Bryant Hornets’ safety Rondale Messer. “I got here (originally from North Little Rock) when Coach (Paul) Calley was coaching. I was really new to the program. I didn’t know anything.
“I never thought I’d be playing football,” he said. “I never thought I’d be in the position that I am now. I grew up playing basketball and running track. I knew how to play football but my mom — I was a small kid, so she didn’t let me play. She thought I was going to get hurt.
“I didn’t think my ability could get this good,” the senior continued. “I got strong, faster.
“When Coach (Buck) James came, he changed the whole program around,” Messer stated. “He’s a wonderful coach and the whole coaching staff he brought in was just wonderful. They were tough on us, but they loved us. It was tough love. They never lied to us about anything. Everything they told us was the truth.
“They told us last year around this time, ‘If you work hard, you will be in this position. You will get to experience this.’”
“This” occurred on Wednesday, National Signing Day, at Big Blue, the Bryant field house. Along with five of his teammates, Rondale Messer was signing a letter of intent to continue his education and football career at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia.
“I’ll bet that people who knew Rondale when he was in the ninth or 10th grade, if you told them, he was going to be a guy that would go to college and play football on scholarship probably would shake their head,” said James.
It’s a lesson to all those players that come to high school hoping to make a big splash right away and don’t, discovering that it’s all so much more difficult than they thought it’d be. Some of those guys quit when it doesn’t pan out right away. Others, like Messer, just get to work and, by the time their senior season comes around, they get a shot and make the most of it.
They persevere, and it pays off.
“My junior year, I didn’t play,” Messer said. “I was just working hard and never giving up and just trusting in God.”
Even at the start of the season, he had doubts.
“It was crazy,” Messer said. “At the Salt Bowl, our first game, I didn’t really think — I was starting but I didn’t think that I’d be a big factor.”
“He bought into Coach (Darrell) Burnett,” James said, referencing his defensive coordinator and secondary coach. “He became exactly what Coach Burnett wanted him to be. He was physical. He made a lot of tackles for us, played good in the secondary.”
Still, it took a while for the senior to feel like he was getting there.
“At Southside (in week 7), I got two interceptions,” he recalled. “So, I was like, ‘Okay.’ That game was kind of an eye-opener for me, like you feel like you can be something great if you just keep working hard, trusting in God, trusting in my coaches and my family. I just never gave up.”
He wound up with four pass break-ups, three interceptions, a sack and 77 tackles, second on the team.
“He sort of reversed roles a little bit with Cameron (Vail),” James recalled. “When Mike (Jones) went down (with an injury), we put Cameron where Mike was and tried to roll with Rondale. I think Rondale answered the bell.”
Messer chose Henderson over Harding and Southern Arkansas University.
“I had a real good relationship with their coaching staff but it didn’t work out that good,” he said of Harding. “I had SAU but Henderson just stuck out to me.
“When I started talking to the coach, they treated me like I was family,” he continued. “As much as I was going to visit, I felt like I was at home. I can go there and call that home because they treated me like I was a special person. They treated me, not like a player — they treated me like I was a real person. They were good coaches and like father-figures to the other kids. And I like that a lot.”