Russell Christian sophomore Carter Phillips was struggling during offensive line drills one day at practice back in 2017, and volunteer coach Lee Littrell wasn’t going to let Phillips off the hook.
“He asked me, ‘Are you eating too many honey buns?’ ” Phillips recalled.
After that, Mr. Littrell began referring to Phillips as ‘Honey Bun,’ much to Phillips’ annoyance.
“I said, ‘I don’t even like honey buns,’ ” Phillips said.
That was when Phillips first began taking to Mr. Littrell, who could often be seen volunteering his time at RCA, whether it was coaching the offensive linemen or helping with some sort of construction going on at the school’s football or softball fields.
His oldest grandson, Drake, graduated from RCA three years ago, and two of his grandchildren are still students at the school: junior Laila and sixth grader Decker. Littrell died Nov. 18 of a heart attack, but his legacy at the school lives on.
“After his grandkids started going here, he got to see what this school was about, and he wanted to be a part of it,” said Andy Braddock, RCA’s football coach and athletic director. “He loved these kids here, and he loved what RCA was about, and he just dove in with both feet. He was an unbelievable servant leader.”
Mr. Littrell owned a construction company and “virtually built” the school’s football field, Braddock said.
He also helped softball coach Larry Lippert with improving the school’s softball field numerous times. Much of his time, though, was spent on the football field helping with the offensive line, and Phillips said he and his teammates took a liking to Littrell, even if he was a tough coach.
“He was rough and tough, but he loved everyone,” Phillips said. “If he saw you were struggling, he might give you a little break, but everything he did he was trying to make you better.”
Braddock said he and Mr. Littrell began helping with the school’s youth football team several years ago before moving up as assistant coaches.
Braddock took over as head football coach before the 2018 season, and Mr. Littrell remained by his side. RCA is a three-time defending state champion in the Alabama Christian Education Association, and Braddock said Mr. Littrell had a lot to do with that.
“Lee was an old-school type of coach, blood and guts,” Braddock said. “He was hard on the boys, but they loved him. He was a big part of our success the last three years. (The players) were scared of him, but they respected him, and he had a great relationship with them. When they stepped foot on the football field or practice field, they knew he meant business, but he would carry on with them and help them anyway he could off the field. It was a good mix.”
Drake played football when he was at RCA, and Decker is a football player for the Warriors as well, but he didn’t have any family on the school’s softball team.
That didn’t stop him from helping Lippert any way he could. When Lippert arrived at the school almost a decade ago, Littrell showed him how to clean up the infield by removing the grass, and he also helped construct the field’s fence and backstop.
Several years ago, Lippert wanted to redo the field’s playing surface, and numerous bags of dirt were used to shore up the infield. They started with four bags of dirt and ended up using a dozen, and it began a running joke between Lippert and Mr. Littrell that they would have to keep using bags of dirt long after the work had been completed.
“He’d see me out there, and if we’d see a low spot after rain, he would say, ‘Coach, I think we need one more load of dirt,’ ” Lippert said with a chuckle.
It wasn’t just the time or energy Mr. Littrell spent that Lippert most appreciates — it’s the fact that he did so despite not having a grandchild playing softball for Lippert.
“He loved the school, and he spent as much time here as a full-time employee,” Lippert said. “He goes out of his way to help people, and he loved the school and loved that his grandkids are going to the school. He’d do anything for anybody.”
RCA has a Langford Knight Award for volunteers, which Mr. Littrell won several times.
“Whenever we needed anything, he was always available,” Lippert said.
“He’d leave a job site if we had an emergency with something electrical or something. He’d drop everything, and you don’t find many people like that. Those kinds of people don’t just show up.”
Lippert said Mr. Littrell exemplified the Christian faith, and while some may talk the talk, Mr. Littrell walked the walk.
“If you thought of a true Christian as someone who was a servant and would give you the shirt off his back, that was him,” Lippert said. “He walked the Christian life like he should — like we all should.”
Said Phillips, “He lived by the Golden Rule. He’d treat you like you would want to be treated. I learned a lot from him as far as how to treat people and be respectful.”
And whenever you needed a laugh, Mr. Littrell was always there to provide one, Braddock said.
“You never saw him in a bad mood,” Braddock said. “He always had something to joke about. If you were having a bad day, you’d hang around him for a few minutes, and your day just got better.”