Player of the Year: Oak Grove’s Plumlee puts up monster numbers

By CAMAL PETRO,

Oak Grove’s three-year starter didn’t get a chance to experience a playoff game through his first two years at quarterback, but senior John Rhys Plumlee and the Warriors engineered a 12-2 season entering the 6A State Championship in late November.

Plumlee, a future Division I player, had 4,303 yards of total offense and 52 touchdowns to help earn him PineBeltSPORTS Player of the Year.

“I don’t really keep up with stats and stuff, but to hear it at the end, it’s kind of cool,” Plumlee said.

He was a major reason why Oak Grove saw the success it did, but he’ll be the first to say it was a team effort. After all, this year’s team felt different than previous seasons. The Warriors were in a playoff drought, and they hadn’t reached the postseason since Plumlee and the senior class were freshmen.

Everything was culminating for the 2018 season, though.

“This was a special team, because as we grow older and go our separate ways,” Plumlee said, “we’ll look back and think, ‘Those were my best friends at the time in high school. Those were the guys I spent all my time with. Those were the guys who I wanted to get better with.’ As we go forward in life, I think these guys will be some of my best friends.”

Plumlee and the Warriors began 2018 like they began the 2017 season, with a quick 3-0 record with wins over Purvis, Wayne County and Laurel. Oak Grove cruised through those games in 2017 and it did again this season, but it felt a little different. Unlike the previous year, Plumlee was healthy and putting even more highlight reels on film, but the Warriors were blitzed by Hattiesburg in a Week 4 contest, which was a repeat of 2017 as well.  

Like 2017, Oak Grove beat George County after the bye week and found itself 4-1 heading into the rivalry game with Petal, and that’s when the improved Warriors started to show how good they were going to be this season. Starting with Plumlee, Oak Grove rebounded after the 51-19 loss to Hattiesburg to win four straight region games.

“That was my mindset going into it and I think the team had the same mindset,” Plumlee said of bouncing back after a loss. “We just hate losing and we’re going to do whatever it takes to win. Losing to Hattiesburg was a good thing for us as a team, because I think we got to a point where we thought, ‘Hey, we’re pretty good.’ When we lost it was like, ‘OK, how can we get better?’ It showed us, as a team, how much better we could be. The losses came at times where it showed us that we could be a whole lot better.”

During the four-game winning streak that pushed Oak Grove’s record to 7-1, Plumlee passed for 791 yards and eight touchdowns while rushing for 471 yards and six scores.

A tough loss to Brandon in October set up another long winning streak for the Warriors. They reeled off five straight before the loss to Horn Lake in the state championship. Oak Grove clinched a second seed in the playoffs after wins over Pearl and Jim Hill to finish off the regular season, and it was the first time any player of the team had experienced a playoff game.

Led by Plumlee’s 930 yards of offense and 12 total touchdowns, Oak Grove beat Harrison Central, Petal and Brandon in consecutive games, then the senior quarterback put up 337 passing yards and four touchdowns in the 31-27 loss in the championship.

“We’d come out every Sunday or Monday and we’d tell each other, ‘this could be your last one. We’re not promised another one, so why not take this one full speed and give it all you got?’ We just kind of repeated that and preached that, and it worked out for us,” Plumlee said.

It wasn’t all easy for Plumlee and the Oak Grove offense. Injuries plagued the Warriors as early as last spring when Plumlee’s top target Kevin Barnett went down with an injury. Then Week 2 this season, Plumlee’s speedy receiver Brandon Hayes was lost for the year.

With his Top 2 receivers down, juniors Liam Breithaupt and Tavion Smith had to step up, but it was going to be tough to replace the chemistry Plumlee and Barnett had.

“In the summer, you have your guys who are out here every day with you,” Plumlee said. “You get accustomed to throwing to them every day. Kevin was one of those guys for me. We were so much on the same page. We knew exactly where the ball was going to be, where he wanted to be, where I was trying to put it and stuff like that. With a guy like that, someone who you put so much work in with, it was kind of like a gut punch, but I still knew we were going to be OK.”

Breithaupt, Smith and other pass catchers shined in Barnett and Hayes’ absence, and that allowed the Warriors’ offense to keep putting up big numbers.

Depending on the recruiting service, Plumlee is either a three-star or four-star quarterback recruit. He’s tabbed as the seventh-best dual-threat quarterback on 247sports.com and he’s 15th on Rivals.com, so he gets a lot of attention when opponents are game planning against the Warriors.

Plumlee passed for more than 200 yards six times this season with only three total interceptions all year, and he had nine 100-yard rushing games. Ironically, he passed for less than 150 yards four times, but he completed nearly 70 percent of his passes in those games and Oak Grove was 4-0.

“If you would have told me ninth-grade year that somebody from another school would have to plan their defensive scheme around me, I would have thought that was crazy,” Plumlee said. “It’s a big dream to have and a cool thing to happen. It’s really neat. I think I’ve really been put in a place and opportunity to make those plays.

“I say it all the time, but it’s true, I kind of do the easy stuff. When it comes down to it, those guys in front of me and protecting me this whole year, they were doing the hard stuff. They had their hands in the ground and were making holes for me.”

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