There will be two major differences when Oak Grove takes the field this fall. While there are a number of key returners to the team this season, the Warriors will have a new quarterback in the backfield for the first time in three years and Warriors Field will also get a facelift with new synthetic turf.
The Warriors finished as the second-best team in the state last season, and some outside of the program expect a little drop off in 2019. While there are a number of key players who graduated, for the most part, the Warriors are bringing back a large group of returning starters.
Just looking at the offense, two keys running backs return, a handful of experienced receivers are back and three key players on the offensive line are set to go this fall. Oak Grove did lose two valuable tight ends, though.
“We’ve got a lot coming back skill-wise, which is nice with the quarterback situation,” Oak Grove coach Drew Causey said. “You have guys who have played, who know what we expect. They’re going to make the quarterback’s job a lot easier.”
Senior Nick Milsap and junior E.J. Newell both had their moments last season at running back, and seniors Tavion Smith and Liam Breithaupt stepped up at receiver when key players went down. Adding Brandon Hayes back to the fold, along with junior Jordan Coleman, and the skill positions seem to be set. Milsap led all of the running backs with 681 rushing yards and six touchdowns in 2018, while Newell added 289 yards and a pair of scores. Smith recorded a team-high 720 receiving yards with five touchdowns, while Breithaupt also snagged five touchdowns with 602 receiving yards. Hayes was injured during Oak Grove’s Week 2 contest against Wayne County and missed the rest of the season, but in less than two games he had 236 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
But the biggest newcomer to the offense will be the quarterback. After having the same starter for three years, Causey is shuffling through at least three different players this summer to see who grabs control of the position.
Senior Landon Forbes and sophomore Kabe Barnett are the only two on the roster who saw any varsity playing time last season, although the two only combined for nine passing attempts, but there are other players who can emerge as a starter. One thing is for sure, Causey says, it’s been a healthy quarterback battle so far.
“It’s a competition, but it’s a good competition,” Causey said. “One of them makes a good throw and one will say, ‘Hey, good job.’ I’ve seen them in the locker room talking to each other and it’s not a heated battle when it comes to that, but it’s a good competition.”
Oak Grove’s Capital Improvement Campaign
The Oak Grove Warrior Club is pushing ahead with an ambitious project. With the help of the Capital Improvement Campaign, Oak Grove athletics could look very different in the near future. The Warrior Club is asking for support from area businesses, individuals, foundations and friends in an attempt to raise $1.5 million for different projects.
Like every other football coach, Causey is excited about the upcoming season. But before his players lace up their cleats for the season, the Warriors are eagerly waiting to receive new turf to Warrior Field.
“It’s just time for it to come up,” Causey said of the old turf. “For safety reasons, it’s ripping in certain spots and you just don’t want to keep putting a Band-Aid on it. We’re excited about getting it done.”
There are multiple projects on the horizon thanks to the campaign, but the installation of new turf for the football field will be the first task tackled. The older turf, which is 13 years old, is being prepared to be pulled soon, and the arrival of new turf is scheduled sometime before fall practice starts in August.
Warrior Field needed new turf, too. The lifespan typically runs eight to 10 years, so the current field turf is well overdue. Also, it’s not just the football team that will benefit from it. Both soccer teams, the school band, middle school athletics and sometimes other school’s will play on Oak Grove’s turf field because its field is unavailable due to weather conditions.
“It gets a lot of traffic,” Causey said.
Sections of the old turf will be cut up and laid down outside the stadium for linemen to run drills on, and there will also be turf available in indoor locations on the Oak Grove campus.
Phase II of the project is putting turf on the infield of Oak Grove’s Harry Breland Field. Also, tennis courts for the tennis team and a new track surface are also part of the renovation project. The $1.5 million goal is for all of the projects, and while the Oak Grove Warrior Club is well on its way to raising the money, they’re still asking for support.
“We’re in the process of trying to raise a good bit of money to be able to improve, not only Oak Grove athletics, but for the community as well,” Causey said.