OAK HILL — Oak Hill heard all of the negativity last year surrounding its move to the SOC II.
It also fed off of that energy and gave itself a chance to make the playoffs despite falling short of its goal.
That chatter is still continuing and much like last year, the Oaks are using it as fuel to prepare itself for a tough slate this season.
“I expect us to pick up where we left off last season. These guys have a lot of confidence and they’re ready to get this season going,” Oak Hill coach Paul Carver said. “Our practices have been much more up tempo and you can see the difference now that we’ve gotten to green light. A lot of people said that last year was a fluke, so we’re eager to get on the field and prove them completely wrong.”
However, that road to knocking teams off is filled with inexperienced players on offense who are stepping into the deep end.
The entire back field from last season is gone from Isaac Morgan to Triston Diltz and everyone in between.
Sophomore Darrick Boggs steps into the spotlight as the team’s starting quarterback, while a rotation of backs featuring Brandon Beam, Cameron Kerns, Brock Harden, Alex Firpo and Jacob Turner join him in the backfield.
“We’ll bring guys in and out to run the ball. We’re probably seven guys deep at running back and we’ll use them all if needed,” Carver said. “Those guys also play linebacker for us so we’ll keep the rotation moving to keep them as fresh as possible.”
Any one who watched Oak Hill last season knew it didn’t pass very often, and it didn’t bother hiding that fact.
However, on the off chance it throws that wrinkle in, that’s where Braylon Howell, Aidan Hall and Isaiah McCarty come into play from their tight end spots.
In the trenches, this is where the Oaks make their money. Three starters in Ethan Sickles, Flint Barger and Evan Fisher return, and they’ll be joined by guys such as Weston McGhee, Connor Stout, Aden Ford and Isaac Bates.
Those guys also make up the defensive line, and alongside with the return of Harden, Beam and Kerns alongside Firpo at linebacker make up a solid front seven, which is probably the strength of the team.
“Our front seven is really good, but more than anything, they are most experienced players who understand what it takes to get the job done and get off the field,” Carver said. “They are going to be physical and lay the wood every chance they get. We pride ourselves on being the most physical team on both sides of the ball.
Meanwhile in the secondary, sophomore A.J. Harrison and Conor Dickens returns to their corner and safety positions. They’re joined by Howell, Beam and McCarty.
“If our front four with Flint, Ethan, Aidan and Cameron and put some pressure on the quarterback and force some rushed decisions, it’ll give our secondary more chances to make some plays and hopefully get some extra possessions.”
For Oak Hill this year, going .500 or 3-3 in this case simply isn’t good enough. It wants to prove itself and is willing to go to any means to get the respect it deserves.
“We believe in ourselves and that’s all that matters,” Carver said. “It’s a tough schedule that we have ahead of us, but it gives us the chance to show what we’re made of. It doesn’t matter if anyone on the outside says we don’t have a chance against said opponent. As long as the guys in this locker room believe it, that’s all we need.”
Oak Hill opens its season on Friday at St. Clairsville.