Raiders ready for jamboree road match

 Oak Hill Academy football coach Chris Craven talks to his team after practice on Wednesday.
DTL Editor

The pads were left in the locker room for the most part on Wednesday as the Oak Hill Academy Raiders did walk-through drills in preparation for a jamboree contest on the road against Pickens Academy in Carrollton, Alabama on Thursday. 

The Raiders, led by fourth-year head coach Chris Craven, got a taste of the post-season last year, finishing with a 6-4 overall record and a first round playoff appearance. 

This is be Craven’s 13th season as a part of Oak Hill athletics, and last year he was voted to be a head coach in the MAIS annual Blue-White All-Star Game in Jackson. 

While the 6 p.m. game on Thursday will be a tune-up to work out the kinks before the Friday night lights come on for the regular season opener next week at home against Deer Creek Academy, Craven is hopeful it will be valuable experience for his young team, which is made up mostly of sophomores and juniors. 

“You do want to see that measure of toughness when you finally play another opponent,” Craven said of the Pickens Academy Pirates. “They’re always very competitive and it’s always a good scrimmage and a good jamboree. You want to know that you know how to run your base offense and base defense, you know those things.”

The game will be full-contact and full-speed for the most part, but will see four 8-minute quarters, with no live special teams. 

“We’re trying to give some kids some opportunities to step up and earn a starting position and this is their chance,” Craven said. 

An issue facing many smaller schools is the need for some of the team’s more talented players to see action on both sides of the ball. But Craven hopes some of the younger talent on his team will step up and take the load off as much as possible. 

“We’re trying some guys in the secondary that may be a little more inexperienced than normal, but at the same time, if they hold that down, the wideout doesn’t have to play both ways all night,” Craven said. 

The Raider offense will run multiple formations behind first-year starting quarterback Ash Cullum, a senior. 

“We’ll lean on (the senior’s) leadership, especially on offense,” Craven said. “Ash is a pretty smart fella when it comes to football. He’s my quarterback of choice just because he has proven himself to kind of know what I’m thinking and that’s what I need out there.”

Cullum will be protected by fellow senior left guard Robert “Icebox” Thompson, who will anchor the offensive line for the Raiders. He will be joined by sophomore Kip Alpe at left tackle, who Craven praised for stepping up late in the season on the offensive line last year. 

Alpe is also expected to earn some reps at defensive tackle. 

In the backfield, senior fullback Ethan Bryan will work to open up holes for junior tailback Jonah Caskey. 

“We don’t line up in the same thing very often,” Craven said of his offense. “We try to run a good mix of run and pass as much as possible but we’re going with whatever is working. If something is working, we will run it until it gets stopped. We’ll do whatever it takes to get four yards a pop. We don’t have a particular set style.” 

Craven will also be looking to younger players, like wide receiver Manning Huffman, to make an immediate contribution. 

“We’re hoping that works out well for him, he’s got great hand-eye coordination,” Craven said. 

On defense, there will be a familiar face leading the way from the mike linebacker spot: Jaden Craven, who is the son of the Raiders football coach. 

“He is the kind of guy that helps that defense box stays together, we will be leaning a lot on him, we have a new defensive coordinator this year, Bill Rosenthal, so we’re doing some things a little different and there’s a little bit of a learning curve, so we’re counting on him to make sure the learning curve stays curved.”