When Rylan Lerma suits up for the Mustang Broncos on Friday nights, it’s more than just putting on pads, a uniform, and a helmet.
It’s a family tradition.
Lerma has seen his fair share of action at Bronco Stadium. From roaming the sideline while watching games with his dad, through his first snaps for Mustang South Middle School, to now entering his senior season. He even remembers a stint as the team’s “official” t-shirt cannon operator.
“I would shoot that thing every game,” Lerma said as he laughed slightly and reminisced. “I grew up watching the Broncos. We would just go watch games and hang out. …Football is a big deal in my family, especially on Friday nights and Saturdays in Norman.
“It’s a family bond thing. It’s like our life.”
Lerma’s mom graduated from MHS in 2001 and was one of the great Bronco mascots while dad, a ’00 graduate, was a four-year starter along the team’s offensive line. Not to mention his sister, currently a freshman on the softball team, his aunt, a former team trainer, and his uncle, a defensive back for Mustang’s ’06 state runner-up squad. And his grandparents, who have witnessed all the above.
Now Lerma, who enters the season as Mustang’s lone returning starter up front, is ready to add to the family legacy. He thinks back to his first snaps as a starter in the 2020 playoffs. A sophomore at the time, Lerma was eager. And after getting the call, he knew where he belonged.
“I stayed focused that whole season and it didn’t really phase me that I wasn’t starting,” he said. “But once I did get that first start against Owasso, I really developed some confidence. I got bullied a little bit, but I knew I could play. I went into that next offseason knowing I would have to stay locked in, lift, and get better overall to keep that spot.”
Lerma remained a starter as the team’s ‘Bronco Back’ and also worked his way onto the offensive line. He says the past offseason was even more of a grind, hitting the weight room daily to combine increased strength with natural quickness. The 6-foot guard is now up to 260 pounds and is set to take on an even larger role with four new starters around him.
“I’m definitely ready to step into more of a leadership role as a senior,” he said. “Personally, I got stronger and faster, but I’ve also tried developing more chemistry with the guys up front. I’ve known them my whole life and know how hard they work so we already have great relationships. It’s just a matter of trusting one another and having confidence in the guy next to you.”
One solid foundation already established for Mustang is Lerma’s relationship with senior quarterback Tristen Russell.
Russell has plenty of praise for Lerma and doesn’t mince words about his classmate. The two have been teammates since middle school.
“He is my guy,” Russell said. “He is a very violent football player. He’s a calm guy and one of the best guys to be around, but when he hits the field, it’s all serious. He’s just a top-notch player who knows what he’s doing and an excellent leader for our team.”
Mustang coach Lee Blankenship says Lerma was a dominant force last year and they expect even more from the team captain in 2022.
“It starts with him up front,” Blankenship said. “We’re really depending on his leadership. He started along four seniors last season, which means he is the guy to lead that group this year. He played quite a bit as a sophomore and has only continued to get better and stronger and more physical. …We really want to take advantage of his experience.”
Lerma and his classmates were freshmen when Blankenship took over as Mustang’s head coach following the 2019 season. They went 7-6 as sophomores and then reached the state semifinals for the seventh time in program history in 2021.
Now, Lerma believes the stage is set for the next step.
“We just talked about it the other day,” he said. “Coach Blankenship told us ‘Mustang will be playing in December’. It’s that attitude and practicing with a championship mindset. When coach got here, we could see the culture change.
“And now that’s our standard. We’re trying to build an empire and won’t settle for anything less.”