Players and coaches at Oak Grove are looking to rebound after a 2017 campaign that had many ups and downs. Though the Warriors started the season with a three-game winning streak, they finished with a 6-5 overall record and struggled in region play, going 3-4 and missing the playoffs.

“We didn’t accomplish the goals we wanted to accomplish,” Causey said. “We had some things that went negative for us, about that middle of the season area and we just didn’t handle it really well.”

The positive for the Warriors is that two of their key playmakers from last season return to lead their respective units. Quarterback and recent University of Georgia commit John Rhys Plumlee is back for his senior campaign, and he will be the anchor of the offensive unit for Oak Grove this season. Senior Jack Harris, a Mississippi State commit, will provide production and leadership on the defensive line.

“John Rhys is extremely talented,” Causey said. “He’s a great leader, just an all-around good football player.”

Despite the return of players like Plumlee and senior wide receiver Kevin Barnett on offense, the unit will have to replace other contributors at some positions on the offense. Gone are players like Orlando Simon, who rushed for 999 yards and six touchdowns, as well as Deltarus Thompson, who caught five touchdowns and had 309 receiving yards in 2017. Still, Plumlee thinks the offense will be productive in 2018.

Causey talked about some of the players he expects to stand out on the offensive unit this season.

“Jarious Smith, he’ll be a senior this year, he’s kind of waited his turn to be the running back, [and] we’re expecting big things out of him,” Causey said. “Brandon Hayes is back, really good wide receiver that we expect to be a really big deep threat for us, a guy that can stretch the field vertically.”

As a sophomore in 2017, Hayes was the third leading receiver on the team with 25 receptions for 262 yards and a touchdown. Smith had just 18 carries for 74 yards on the ground and was fifth on the team in rushing. These two players will really have to bump up their production and complement Plumlee’s playing style.

“I think we’re going to be good,” Plumlee said. “We’ve had some young guys step up, they’re really starting to develop into really good players.”

The defense for Oak Grove will feature changes on and off the field, but will be helped by the presence of Harris. Harris had 101 total tackles to go along with 12 sacks in his junior season with the Warriors. Harris thinks the preparation for the season so far has been positive.

“Practice has been great,” Harris said. “We’ve been running over plays, learning a lot, just flying around.”

Senior defensive back Jarius Reimonenq is another player that Causey believes will provide production and stability on the back end of the defense. Reimonenq was the team leader in interceptions last season with five. A new addition to the defensive backfield for 2018 will be former PCS quarterback Brandon Thornton. Thornton threw for 1280 yards, 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions for the Bobcats last season.

One of the new faces that will look to make an impact on the defense for Oak Grove in 2018 will actually be on the coaching staff. Larry Dolan, a former head coach at Forrest County AHS, will be the defensive coordinator for the Warriors this season, bringing lots of experience to the staff. Steve Gandy is another new addition on the defensive staff who will coach the defensive backs this season.

When looking at Oak Grove’s schedule, Coach Causey believes that every game will be a test for his team. The Warriors finished with a 3-4 record in region play, with losses to Petal, Terry, Brandon and Pearl.

“We don’t really have an easy game on our schedule,” Causey said. “We open up right here [at home] with Purvis, then we go on the road two weeks in a row to Wayne County and Laurel, then that fourth game we turn around and play Hattiesburg here. Our district play, it’s not very easy, we’ve got George County, Terry, Petal, Meridian, Brandon, Pearl and Jim Hill. We’ve definitely got to be ready to go and stay healthy.”

If Oak Grove is to return to the playoffs this season, both offense and defense must play at a high level. Plumlee can make plays with on the ground and through the air at the quarterback spot, which gives the offense a special dimension, but the wide receivers especially will have to click with Plumlee. There are still some unknowns on the defense, especially given the coaching additions on that side of the ball, but having Jack Harris and his ability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks is a plus.

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