This could be special season for Oak Hill


Oak Hill Oaks

Mere months after the most successful boys
basketball season in Oak Hill High School history, the Oaks’ football team is
aiming to follow suit. With 11 starters and 12 letterwinners returning — and
following a 7-3 but what-could-have-been season — the Oaks hope their historic
season is indeed this year, which includes their first-ever Southern Ohio
Conference championship and state playoff berth.

OAK HILL — Mere months after the most successful boys
basketball season in Oak Hill High School history, the Oaks’ football team is
aiming to follow suit.

With 11 starters and 12 letterwinners returning — and
following a 7-3 but what-could-have-been season — the Oaks hope their historic
season is indeed this year, which includes their first-ever Southern Ohio
Conference championship and state playoff berth.

There’s even talk of a perfect 10-0 campaign — a complete
180 from a winless fall four years ago.

But playing games on paper is one thing.

Playing them, and winning them, on the field is another.

In his fourth season as head coach, and with arguably the
most talented Oaks’ team in two decades, Greg Phillips is well aware of the
pressure which accompanies these high expectations.

“I was asked that question this past winter about feeling
any pressure. In my mind, nobody can put any more pressure than what I put on
myself. I expect us to compete for a league championship every year. If the
computers are nice to us, I expect for us to have a shot at some type of
playoff appearance. That’s our goal this year and we don’t accept anything less
as our goal,” said Phillips. “That’s the nature of the game. You are hired as a
coach to win, and your kids work hard to win, and if you put it together and
have a little bit of luck, that’s hopefully what turns out for you.”

Since Phillips’ hiring, the Oaks have rebuilt their program
from three wins his first year to seven just last year.

Similar lofty expectations existed last season, but the
younger Oaks fell short in three games which denied them both the SOC I
championship and the Division V, Region 19 playoffs.

Turnovers and other self-inflicted mistakes in those three
games proved to be the Oaks’ undoing.

“I would call it a successful season, but at the same time,
it was kind of bittersweet about what could have been,” said Phillips. “If we
don’t put the ball on the ground (in losses to Chesapeake and Minford), we
could have very well been sitting at 9-1 and in the playoffs. We won our last
four games, we played hard and came together after losing back-to-back games.
At that point in time, we could have packed it in. I was pleased with that, but
we traveled to a different school to watch Sciotoville East get presented the
league championship trophy. That’s our goal every year, and it’s up to the
computers whether or not we make the state playoffs.”

While they can gain the SOC I championship on the field,
they are still playing computer games in terms of the postseason.

Oak Hill’s league consists primarily of Division VI schools,
and the amount of secondary points hinge on how those teams perform.

The Oaks also face Division V Chesapeake and Minford, of
which Minford — a back-to-back state playoff qualifier — has high expectations
once again.

River Valley and Rock Hill, both Division IV clubs, combined
for just one win last season but are expected to improve.

Oak Hill also replaced Northwest with Division VI stronghold
Trimble, whose last losing season came an entire decade ago.

“We like our schedule,” said Phillips. “We’re almost
Division VI, and we play in a Division VI conference (SOC I), so we have to
look to play schools as big if not bigger than us in non-league. Rock Hill is
Division IV and I expect them to have some wins this year. Chesapeake (also
Division V) has a chance to be pretty good and get us some points. Minford
(also Division V) is a very good team in the SOC II. Or, we have to play
Division VI teams that we know are going to win the majority of their games to
give us playoff points. I can’t remember the last time Trimble has had a losing
season. They’re going to win six or more games usually. In our league,
Sciotoville East and Notre Dame have had good seasons the last two years and
should again this year.”

Of course, Oak Hill has to win its games too.

And, the Oaks have the talent to do just that.

Especially at the skilled positions.

“We have a great nucleus of skilled kids returning. I
wouldn’t trade them for anybody, ” said Phillips. “Jesse Slone is back at
quarterback, Joey Maynard is back at one wide receiver, Westen Hale is a
205-pound tailback running the ball, Kyle Ondera is coming out this year, and
he is a very good athlete at the other wide receiver. Defensively, our entire
secondary returns with Joey, Jesse and Westen. We don’t have a ton of depth,
but have good speed on both sides of the ball.”

Three of the key returnees captured Division V all-district
honors, including three-year starters Jesse Slone (quarterback), Joey Maynard
(wide receiver/defensive back) and Westen Hale (running back/strong safety).

All three are juniors.

An all-Southeast District Division V first-team selection
last season, Slone threw for over 1,400 yards for the second straight fall,
completing 62.5-percent of his passes and amassing 17 touchdowns.

He completed 97-of-155 passes as a sophomore for the Oaks.

“I think we have the best quarterback in the area,” said
Phillips. “I know some other coaches are going to disagree, and I don’t blame
them for disagreeing. But I’ll take mine.”

With the graduation of standout tight end J.D. Hale, another
all-district first-teamer, Maynard returns as the top receiver, having caught
32 passes for 591 yards and four touchdowns last season.

As a first-team all-district defensive back, Maynard made 57
tackles and intercepted six passes.

The other wideout is first-year player and senior Kyle
Ondera, who was the Most Outstanding Player for the Division IV state champion
Oaks’ boys basketball team during the state tournament in March.

Ondera will don Hale’s former jersey number of 85, and has
the tall task of replacing the tall Hale.

Hale had 31 receptions for 332 yards and seven touchdowns,
caught four two-point conversion passes, and averaged 14 yards per catch.

“J.D. is big to replace. It’s not easy to replace a
six-foot-five, 230-pound tight end who has good hands,” said Phillips. “In
fact, we went some formations last year where we split him out wide and just
threw the ball up to him and let him play basketball and catch it.”

Taking over at actual tight end is Daniel Woods.

But while one Hale graduated, another one returns.

That is Westen Hale, who takes over at tailback for the
graduated Pete Fisher.

Fisher rushed for 1,136 yards on 116 carries, most of which
will fall to Hale this season.

However, Phillips said the key to the Oaks’ success is their
line play.

“It all starts up front. We can have the best quarterback in
the world, but I never saw (former Miami Dolphins quarterback) Dan Marino
complete too many passes from his back. We have to get protection and play well
up front to give our skilled kids an advantage,” he said. “If we do that, and
we get our skilled kids the ball, we’re going to cause some teams some
problems. We have some good size up front, but we have to play together and
avoid injuries.”

Two starters return in senior strong guard Luke Stapleton
and sophomore quick guard Chris Fairchild, as John McCoy takes over at center.

Returning at tackle, after missing all of last season with a
broken leg, is junior Drew Cannon.

Cannon started both ways as a freshman, and is expected to
anchor the offensive line.

“Drew’s leg is fine now. He is running real well in wind
sprints every day. His strength is back up, even more than what it was after
having over a year in the weight room,” said Phillips.

He along with Fairchild are the defensive tackles in the
Oaks’ new 3-4 front.

The other offensive tackle is sophomore Brock Maple, who adds
offense this season to his defensive duties as nose guard.

Maynard, Hale and Slone all return in the secondary, along
with Ondera opposite Slone at corner.

Phillips explained the switch to the 3-4 defense.

“We changed defenses this year because we like our defensive
line so well. We’re going to play the 3-4 front, we’re pretty big and quick up
front. We really think the strength of us is our defensive line,” he said.
“Then you look at our secondary — we have three guys who were on the state
championship basketball team (Kyle Ondera, Westen Hale and Jesse Slone). We
have tall athletic kids back there.”

Phillips added that “linebackers right now is our most
competitive position on the team.”

“We have four guys, and each one of them does something a
little bit better or worse than what the other one does,” he said.

The coach was also pleased with the off-season performance
in improving strength.

It was arguably Phillips’ greatest challenge at Oak Hill
when he initially inherited the program.

“They all had a good year in the weight room. This is my
fourth year here at Oak Hill, and this is the best year we’ve had in the weight
room as far as strength gains go and size gains go,” he said. “We’re going to
have the biggest strongest team on the field that we’ve had in the four years
I’ve been here. By far. It’s not even close.”

The biggest area of improvement for the Oaks is eliminating
mistakes such as lost fumbles and silly penalties.

Such miscues have cost the Oaks over Phillips’ first three

“The players have to understand what their part has to be,”
said the coach. “You always have to concentrate on ball security. You can’t
have silly penalties like jumping offsides, procedure penalties because you’re
lined up in the wrong formation, things like that. We’re doing our best to
improve our focus and clean those mistakes up.”

Phillips attributed some of those mistakes to overall youth.

“Overall, we’ve had young kids playing for us the past three
years,” he said. “Our junior class this year started for us as freshmen. Two
years ago, we had games where we started as many as six freshmen. Last year, we
started five sophomores and three freshmen at various times.”

But youth is no longer an excuse for this group of Oaks.

It can’t be if this is to be a historical and special season
in Oak Hill.

“Oak Hill has never won an SOC championship or made the
state playoffs. We’ve got a chance for a historical and special season, but we
have to take a workman-like attitude and take it one game at a time,” said Phillips.
“After 10 games and the dust settles, we’ll see where we’re at. The kids have
been working really hard, and we’ve been grinding on them on purpose, and so
far they’ve responded. We feel good about going into the season. We just have
to take care of our own selves and not be our own worst enemy.”

The Oaks open the season on Friday night at Chesapeake.


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