OAK HILL — The Oaks, to perhaps some surprise, acquitted themselves quite well last season for their initial run through the Southern Ohio Conference Division II.
Now, with fewer numbers and following the graduation of seven seniors, what will its second SOC II slate have in order for Oak Hill?
Oak Hill had won at least a share of every SOC I championship for the past decade except for two years (2011 and 2016), and based on its shear numbers advantage alone over the SOC I squads, were viewed almost every year as preseason favorites.
But the Oaks, along with the 32-man Valley Indians, are the small fish in the bigger SOC II pond — and their roster of only 30 doesn’t do them any favors.
However, Oak Hill has a dozen seniors, and most — if not all — will indeed play important roles in this campaign — just as those seven seniors of last season’s 5-5 squad, which finished ninth in Division V Region 19 and just missed qualifying for the state playoffs.
“Our numbers are little down this year, especially with only five juniors and two freshmen. We are a senior-heavy team, and we have a good group of kids. I think we can be successful and can compete with everybody on our schedule,” said second-year Oak Hill head coach Paul Carver. “I think we can build upon where we ended up last year; I don’t think we have regressed any, even though we’re not as deep. Our seniors are really looking forward to this season.”
What the Oaks do lack in depth, they make up for in experience with several seniors with at least two years having played significant varsity snaps.
Despite the graduation loss of all-Southeast District Division V defensive back Keaton Potter, the Oaks are solid on defense —with all-district end Flint Barger returning to anchor the unit.
Barger will be joined down front by Ethan Sickles, as both will also lead the offensive lines.
Conor Dickens excelled at outside linebacker last season, but could shift some to the secondary, as the Oaks also graduated Noah Donley in addition to the cornerback Potter.
Braylon Howell, Carver said, is the likely candidate to fill that spot.
Oak Hill, once again, will be facing multi-dimensional spread-oriented offenses as part of its SOC II schedule —including defending division champion Wheelersburg, Waverly and Minford.
Thus, the Oaks need to be excellent — even lockdown — defensively and tackle those athletes in space, while executing their physical, run-oriented and often ball-control and clock-consuming full house backfield offense.
The Oaks won at Valley and West last season, competed quite well with Waverly according to Carver, and actually upstaged Minford 17-14 at Minford with a last-second Brock Harden field goal.
“I like the way we finished the season and these kids fed off that coming into this year. We competed well with Waverly, who is far superior to us talent-wise. We beat Minford at Minford, and Minford too is talent-wise better than us,” said Carver. “And I think the SOC II will be better overall this season than what it was last year.”
But the Oaks’ concern this season could be depth, especially if injuries begin to mount.
Oak Hill, which will also sport 13 sophomores, has Harden and Howell among its stable of backs —but has to replace all-district first-team fullback Triston Diltz.
Diltz rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, as Potter also carried the football.
The Oaks open their second SOC II season, and the second under Carver, with a long non-league venture to St. Clairsville on Friday night.
Carver said his Oaks are excited about being able to play this year, as with all other programs in the state up until Aug. 21, all Oak Hill could do is practice and scrimmage amongst itself —due to an original Ohio Department of Health order and OHSAA mandate prohibiting inter-school competition.
Now Oak Hill has another opportunity to once again acquit itself well.
“I’m excited about our kids getting the opportunity to play. They’ve worked hard for it,” said Carver. “Our motto is to be ready for whatever comes. Whatever comes, whenever the time comes, we’ll be ready for it.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved