In the COVID year of 2020, many high school football programs had some decisions to make based on the lack of players. Nowhere was that issue more prevalent than at Oak Hall.
The Eagles were coming off an 8-4 season in 2019 where they advanced to the second round of the 2A playoffs. But because of a lack of numbers due to COVID, Oak Hall dropped down to 8-man football in 2020 and nearly won a state championship, going 9-1 and losing in the state title game.
In 2021, Oak Hall head coach RJ Fuhr’s squad had the players needed and returned to 11-man football as an independent and played in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference.
A successful 6-1 regular season saw a quick end in the postseason, as Oak Hall lost its opening playoff game to Santa Fe Catholic (Lakeland), who went on to the state title.
Fuhr knows that the 2022 version of Oak Hall needs to improve up front.
“We had only one loss in the regular season, and went in as the No. 1 seed,” Fuhr said. “We lost 13-6 to Santa Fe Catholic, who went on to win the whole thing. That made the loss a little easier to take, but we were still upset.
“We got beat up front a bit, so we know we have to get stronger and get in the weight room, and our kids have had good attendance this summer.”
Fuhr sees this year’s team as one that can contend for the postseason again despite having only four seniors. Nowhere else is the youth more prevalent than on the Eagles’ offensive line.
“To give you an example in our spring game against Trenton our left tackle was a rising eighth grader, our left guard was a ninth grade, then sophomore, ninth grader, ninth grader. So, we are young but getting better,” Fuhr said.
Oak Hall does have a returner at quarterback in sophomore Dakota Brower. Brower was forced into action in the second game of last season against Bishop Snyder (Jacksonville) when senior quarterback Georgia El-Semarani went down with an injury.
“He was forced into action very early last year due to an injury and made his first start in our third game against Seven Rivers Christian (Lecanto),” Fuhr said. “It was good for him to come in and he has grown 2 and a half or 3 inches and is getting bigger.”
Brower will also start on the defensive side at cornerback.
Last year’s leading receiver senior Dylan Provencher returns as well. Fuhr says the Eagles will line Provencher up in the slot. Sophomore Briggs Copeland will be used out of the backfield as a running back in the passing game to force teams to not load the box.
Defensively, Oak Hall loses last year’s leading tackler, linebacker Carter Coleman, but junior linebacker/nose guard Abram Jerkins returns along with junior defensive back Jake Quigley. They are two of the leaders that return on an Eagles defense that Fuhr is high on. Jerkins also led the Eagles in rushing in 2021.
“To have the running game we have it comes in handy because we are kind of deep at running back,” Jerkins said. “Our passing game has looked good in 7-on-7s and we have more receivers this year so we can throw the ball more.”
Oak Hall opens the 2022 season at home on Aug. 26 against St. Joseph Academy (St. Augustine).