Their teams play on different competition levels, based on classification. Their player talent comes largely from their school’s hallways, and different school systems have different resources.
There are a lot of good high school coaches who don’t necessarily have the records to show for their abilities as tacticians and motivators. The best way to judge them is whether they get the most from their talent against the competition their teams play.
With all of that that in mind, one has to like the job Oxford’s Ryan Herring has done through the midway point of his first season over his alma mater’s football program.
We’ve seen the Yellow Jackets continue to compete after early disappointment.
We’ve seen Oxford carry a lead into the fourth quarter against second-ranked Clay-Chalkville then beat Gadsden City despite injuries to the Jackets’ top player.
At Florence a week ago, we saw in-game defensive adjustments that made the difference against an SEC-bound athlete at quarterback, and we saw Oxford come from behind twice.
On the bottom line, we see Oxford (3-2) having won three games in a row after losing the first two, and the Yellow Jackets remain in the Class 6A, Region 7 hunt despite nagging injuries that hobbled running back and Auburn commit Racean Thomas for much of the season’s first half.
Not bad for a school that ranks 43rd among 64 AHSAA 6A teams in enrollment, with more than 1,000 fewer students than state leader Hoover has.
OK, so not all of Herring’s players walked the Oxford hallways before he arrived. Wide receiver Tredarian Gamble followed him from Lincoln and has given the Yellow Jackets a receiving threat against defenses that stack on Thomas.
But Herring inherited a team that lost its entire offensive line and college defensive linemen Trent Simpson and Ulric Jones. This from a team that didn’t make the playoffs in 2012.
The Jackets have Thomas, but a slight concussion knocked him out for the second half of Oxford’s season-opening loss to Carrollton (Ga.). An ankle injury slowed him in the second half at Clay Chalkville and limited him to seven yards on six carries against Gadsden City.
Thomas finally seemed to hit full stride at Florence, where he ran for 235 yards and four touchdowns.
As crucial as Thomas’ performance was in that game, so was the defensive adjustment Herring and his staff made.
Florence quarterback and Ole Miss commit Kendric Doss came out throwing against Oxford’s cover-3 look, hitting on several quick passes to move the Falcons to a 14-6 lead after the first quarter. Oxford switched to a cover-2 look, and Doss completed just five of 15 passes over the final three quarters.
Florence didn’t score again until 10 minutes into the fourth quarter.
That adjustment kept Oxford in the game long enough for the offense to fire, and a fake-punt call helped to fire up the offense.
The result was a 26-20 victory, on the road, against what was a 3-1 team that had been ranked. The Jackets rallied from deficits of 14-6 and 20-18 to win.
It shouldn’t come as a shock, considering that Oxford shook off a 35-14, season-opening rout at the hands of Carrollton to carry a 27-14 lead into the fourth quarter against Clay-Chalkville a week later.
The Jackets shook off that fourth-quarter disappointment and 0-2 start to win three games in a row.
Those are all signs of a high school coach getting the most out of the team he has, against the competition his team has played.
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.