SBLive is previewing the top high school football teams in Mississippi ahead of the fall 2021 season. Here’s an inside look at the defending MHSAA 6A state champion Oak Grove Warriors.
Head Coach: Drew Causey (7th season, 64-22 overall)
Complete Oak Grove coaching staff
Last Year: 13-0 (7-0 in Region 3-6A), Class 6A State Champions
QB Kabe Barnett
OT Klabron Pollard
DB Jaylen Aborom
Oak Grove has a tough act to follow in 2021 after storming to the program’s second state championship in 2020.
Coming after two agonizing defeats in the previous two 6A state finals to Horn Lake and Oxford, the Warriors turned the tables on the defending champion Chargers with a dramatic 29-28 victory last December at Jackson.
Although there are a few graduation holes to fill, the Warriors seem poised to make a serious challenge at a repeat championship this fall.
“I think we’ve had a really good offseason,” said Warrior head coach Drew Causey. “Summer workouts have been very typical of what we’ve had for the last few seasons. I think our guys understand what we expect.”
For Oak Grove, it starts at quarterback, and Causey has the luxury of one of Mississippi’s best in senior Kabe Barnett (6-3, 195), who completed 62 percent of his passes for 2,384 yards and 36 touchdowns, against just five interceptions. He also ran for 443 yards and 8 more scores.
“Kabe is extremely talented,” Causey said. “He throws a very good ball, completes 65 percent of his passes, had 36 touchdowns and five interceptions, and does not have one (Division I) offer.
“In the spring somebody’s going to come in and they’re going to get the best quarterback in the state of Mississippi.”
The Warriors will return their leading receiver from 2020 in senior Tyrell Pollard, who caught 50 passes for 987 yards and 15 touchdowns. Oak Grove doesn’t have much experience at wide receiver besides Pollard, but Causey likes what he’s seen of his depth at the position.
“Byron Easterling, who played a little bit for us last year, he’s back,” Causey said. “Foster Mitchell, who did a lot of kick returns for us, is back, along with several others who are in the mix. Plus, we’ve got three or four guys competing for the tight end spot.”
Oak Grove will have to replace its top two running backs in Courtland Harris and Eugene Newell Jr, who combined for 1,700 yards rushing, but expect junior J.Q. Gray to make the transition from wideout to carry much of the running load for the Warriors.
Up front, the Warriors will build around the talents of senior tackle Klabron Pollard (6-3, 265), who has been getting plenty of looks from Division I programs.
“He’s going to anchor our line,” said Causey. “Sidney Pierfax, who played a little last year, will be a big contributor. Also, we’ve moved McKale Boley from defensive line to right tackle. We’re going to have pretty good depth up front.”
Defensively, the Warriors will build around a veteran secondary, where three starters return, led by junior Jaylen Aborom. Also back are seniors Dontavious Howard and Quentin Sterling.
“We’ll be able to mix up our coverages a lot, with a little more zone to keep guys on their toes,” said Causey. “But we’ve also got the ability to play man-to-man. We feel real good about the guys we have back there.”
Oak Grove has some graduation holes to fill at the linebacker and defensive line positions.
Seniors Braxton Miller and Ethan Easterling are two guys who have some experience at outside linebacker, with senior Tyler Slay, juniors Johnnie Evans and T.J. Harvey, and sophomore Devonta Holder all competing for playing time at the two middle linebacker spots.
Senior Javan Richardson returns to lead the Warriors on the defensive line, along with senior nose guard Adarius Haynes, and Causey said Oak Grove will have a lot of depth along the defensive front.
The Warriors will be breaking in a new kicker, with two-year starter Michael Owens having graduated. Byron Easterling will handle the placekicking chores, while Barnett will do much of the punting.
Having his quarterback do the punting is a strategy Causey employed to good effect two seasons ago with John Rhys Plumlee, now at Ole Miss.
“I would expect some fakes at various times, with Kabe back there,” Causey said. “Teams have got to be ready, because our quarterback’s still on the field. And it makes it easier for us, not getting rushed to get a kicker on the field.”
As usual, Oak Grove will play a demanding schedule, with non-region games against Harrison Central, Wayne County and Hattiesburg, and the Warriors will have an open date before jumping into the difficult Region 3-6A schedule.
“If you look at Oak Grove over the last 10-15 years, that it’s been a very consistent program,” said Causey. “When you line up to play somebody, you know you’re going to get their best every Friday night. That’s not going to change just because we won a state championship.
“There are so many good teams in this region, then add a 10-win team just about every year (Warren Central). That’s real fun, and we get them the first week of region play. Our region is as difficult as ever.”