OAK HILL — For the Oak Hill Oaks, in more ways than one, it’s a new look.
To start, there is a new FieldTurf surface for 15-year-old and sparkling Davis Stadium —as the host Oaks, over the course of that decade-and-a-half, have done a LOT of running the football on that field.
However, as experience counts for so much, Oak Hill —under the direction of three-year head coach Paul Carver —must overcome some significant graduation losses, as the Oaks graduated 13 seniors from last year’s 3-5 team.
With a school the size of Oak Hill, that’s a heavy senior class which featured several starters — as their numbers since moving up to the Southern Ohio Conference Division II two years ago have dipped down to 30 and now 36 for 2021.
Some of these Oaks, Carver revealed during an interview amid media day activities, have never even played football before.
Thus, although some experience returns with the majority of the roster consisting of juniors (13), when half of the squad consists of sophomores (eight) and freshmen (nine), the learning curve coming into this campaign is much greater.
“It is a big class to lose, and it’s a lot to rebuild from, but these guys are set on doing it,” said Carver. “We’ve got a lot of kids new to the game of football; they didn’t play at the junior high level or they have played minimal, say for one year and they decided to come back this year. But they are learning fast and are jumping in and trying their best to learn everything.”
All four of the Oaks’ 2020 all-Southeast District Division V honorees —first-teamers Flint Barger (OL), Brock Harden (LB) and Conor Dickens (RB) and Honorable Mention selection Brandon Beam (RB) — graduated, along with other two-way players Ethan Sickles (OL/DL) and Cameron Kearns (WR/DB).
Sickles was the Oaks’ offensive center, Harden also ran the ball and was the club’s kicker, and Kearns was another all-purpose performer.
But speaking of 13, the Oaks are junior-heavy with that many, including the returning starting quarterback Darrick Boggs.
Other returning starters in Oak Hill’s T-formation power-running attack — and its altered 4-4 defensive alignment to resemble a 5-2 — include Nate Clutters (RB/DB), Evan Fisher (OL/DL), Aidan Hall (TE), Jayden Turner (RB/TE/LB), Walker Sites (OL/DL) and Connor Stout (OL/DL).
Fisher is a three-year starter up front, as unfortunately skilled position player A.J. Harrison —another junior —will miss the season after suffering a torn ACL during a summer 7-on-7 passing scrimmage.
Perhaps the Oaks’ arguably top player is one of six seniors —Braylon Howell — a three-year starter at cornerback and tight end.
Other seniors returning with experience include Dylan Venegas (RB/LB), Kaleb Nolan (OL/DL) and Aden Ford (OL/DL)
“There is some (experience), and we’re going to try to mix that in with starting some freshmen,” said Carver. “Usually, people don’t like to start freshmen, but we’re in the boat where we’re going to have to. Those guys will have to step up and we’ll see what they can do.”
Besides the noticeable change in personnel, the Oaks intend to show different defensive looks —and aim to even throw the football more with Boggs.
Said Carver: “Last year, we were in a base-4 defense, but this year we’re covering up the nose. It will look like a 5-2, but it has some moving parts to it. We’re going to change and roll some things, send some people and drop some people. We’re still based out of the ‘T’ offensively, but we’re going to try to throw the ball more to open up our running game. We’ve got some RPO (run-pass option) concepts, and Boggs is a good enough quarterback that he can read that. We just have to work on protecting him more. We’re spending more time in practice on that.”
Of course, Boggs can’t go down due to injury — but again neither can any of the Oaks among a 36-man roster.
In addition to overall inexperience, depth is another of Carver’s key concerns.
“These are similar numbers to what we had two years ago, and our junior high numbers are up too. We’re trying to get those numbers back up and build that depth. We have to get these kids in the right spots and teach those kids. Some of them have never played football before,” said the coach. “Once they get the hang of it, they will be able to step into those spots. It’s going to take some time, but these guys are learning fairly quickly for people who have never stepped on the field. I’m happy with their progression so far.”
Aside from its difficult jaunt through the SOC II, Oak Hill has Wellston back on its schedule as its season opener — as the Oaks and Golden Rockets resume Jackson County’s Civil War rivalry.
The Oaks’ opener on the new FieldTurf is against Fairland, before the annual “Battle of the Hills” against visiting Rock Hill.
Oak Hill hosts Northwest for its Homecoming contest, as Carver is a Northwest alum — before the Black and White ventures over to Nelsonville-York.
“It’s a tough, but pretty good non-conference schedule for us. It gets you ready for conference play,” said Carver.
And, it’s just one of the new looks at Oak Hill —as Carver claimed his young club’s key goal “is to get better.”
“You may lose a game here and there, but we want to see our teams get better as the season goes on, instead of getting worse or staying the same,” he said. “We’re wanting to build this program for now and in the future. If you make yourself better from week to week, then the wins start coming along and taking care of themselves.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved