COLUMN: Don't Count Out Oxford
If I had a dollar for every time I heard stuff like “Oh, Oxford is going to have a rebuilding year” or “Oxford can’t do anything without Jack Abraham and D.K. Metcalf being there” or “They lost too much talent, they won’t be good” in the offseason, I would have enough money to eat an evening dinner for a party of two or three at the most expensive restaurant on the square in Oxford.
Now that we’ve reached the end of the regular season, I reflected on all that talk that I heard in the offseason about how Oxford was not going to be good and I thought to myself “Wow, what were they thinking…”
Yeah, Oxford lost two SES Elite 10 players last season and graduated 80% of their offense, and yes, a remarkable coaching veteran in Johnny Hill retired. And yes… I had to remind myself… that Oxford literally fell one yard short of a first school state championship, but that didn't mean that Oxford couldn't build talent in the offseason and couldn't be competitive the next season.
The point is, Oxford is a football program like South Panola in the fact that they don't rebuild, they reload. While this year’s stars may not quite be as talented as their predecessors, they do share one common goal: doing everything in their power to be successful and have the “want to” mentality to win, knowing that they are entitled to nothing. Oxford has some talent on their team this year, while it may not be the talent that they had last year and the two years that came before, they have played well against tough competition.
Anytime you have a quarterback like Jack Abraham graduate, and then you have a guy like John Reece McClure replace him and have a good regular season. Anytime you have a running back like Kenzie Phillips leave, you have someone like Hiram Wadlington step up and have a 1,000 yard rushing season with a young offensive line. Anytime a 153 tackle linebacker in Jack Turner leave, you have someone like Quentin Wilfawn step in and break the school record for tackles and lead the state in tackles the following year. The list goes on, but you get my point.
There were some growing pains early, sure, but they have battled through them as the year has gone by. Take the Southaven game for example, Oxford started sophomore QB John Reece McClure for the first time. McClure threw three interceptions, two of them for touchdowns, but he didn't roll over, he didn't quit. McClure led a comeback, throwing two beautiful TDs and erasing a late game 13 point deficit and his team scored 19 unanswered points to win 26-20 on opening night.
This team has also been resilient, doing what they did to Southaven and beating Madison Central, a team that is No. 2 in the state’s toughest region, in the final two minutes on the road in the Jungle.
If you look at the teams that have beaten Oxford, you wouldn't really feel ashamed of them at all. 6A Region 2 is by all measures the best group of football teams in the state, so if one of those teams finishes fifth in that region and misses the playoffs, they are better than most teams in the state. Starkville was that team. They put the hurt on Oxford early, but the Chargers almost came back and won the game. The Chargers would have tied the game late in the fourth quarter if they could have punched the ball into the end zone on 4th and 1 from the one yard line. The Chargers lost that game 28-16.
And how about the Crosstown Classic? Lafayette is a very talented bunch and they played like it against Oxford, shutting them down as their stud running back, Jamarcus Quarles ran for 250+ yards on Oxford’s outstanding defense. I’m not ashamed to say that we lost to Lafayette, shoot, they are in the very thick of it in 4A.
West Point is the favorite in 5A and they were the favorite when the Chargers played them. Oxford played their hearts out, they played lights out defensively against Marcus Murphy and Clayton Knight. The Chargers led 8-7 late in the 3rd quarter, but when the Chargers fumbled on back to back offensive drives in the 4th quarter, it killed them. Had those two turnovers never happened, Oxford probably would've had a legit shot at winning the game.
Lake Cormorant has talent and brilliant head coach in Nick Nester. Oxford could have won the game, but once again, too many simple mistakes killed Oxford in a 31-20 loss.
Oxford has silenced some critics this season, exceeding some expectations. The real season has just begun for the Chargers now that they are in the postseason for the fifth straight season. For them to make it back to the state championship for the forth straight year, they have to play their best ball of the season each and every week from here on out.
And, by the way, if they win the state championship this year, I will never use #JackWasIn again for the rest of my life.