Long on toughness and heart, OCS senior class reestablishes championship standard
Nothing seemed irregular during workouts inside Ouachita Christian’s fieldhouse. Weights clanged. Players grunted. Coaches barked instructions. Just a regular Monday for the seven-time state champions.
Until someone put on the Christmas music.
Yuletide carols didn’t elicit much of a response from the Eagles. A brief nod and back to work. Another sign that it takes more than holiday cheer to rattle this senior class.
“I feel like we just have that tunnel vision,” linebacker Christopher Holyfield said. “We’ve always been a close-knit group and I think that’s helped us stay focused on our goals without getting distracted.”
These seniors don’t lack for ambition either. Another Division IV title will make them only the second class in OCS history to repeat. It hasn’t happened since this group was in elementary school.
Third-seeded OCS plays No. 1 Calvary Baptist at 1 p.m. on Dec. 29 in the Division IV finals at Turpin Stadium.
In his 23 seasons as the OCS coach, Steven Fitzhugh has seen more talent come through the program. Few can match the Class of 2021 in toughness and heart.
“There’s been times where we’ve had more talented classes, but if the chemistry isn’t there, that doesn’t always pan out for a great season,” Fitzhugh said. “This group worked hard and had a great attitude ever since we threw them into the fire as sophomores. They got knocked around a little bit, but that experience made them better.”
Prior to last season, OCS hadn’t advanced passed the quarterfinals since winning Division IV in 2014. That span includes a two-year stay in Division III from 2015-16. The Eagles lost to top-seeded Vermilion Catholic in the 2017 quarterfinals after returning to Division IV.
None of those defeats stung worse than a 22-21 loss to Southern Lab in the 2018 quarters. The Eagles held a 21-8 lead entering the fourth quarter and lost on a 55-yard bomb to the end zone.
“That game changed everything for us,” Holyfield said. “It was a tough lesson to learn, but I think it showed us that we had a chance to be great if we continued to work and improve.”
Hunter Herring moved from tight end to quarterback prior to his junior year. When it was over, OCS were once again state champions and Herring was the consensus Class 1A/Division IV Offensive Most Valuable Player.
“Obviously it’s a huge deal to be in this position since it’s only been done once at OCS,” Herring said. “We’re just blessed to be playing right now and to have another opportunity at a championship.”
Since the loss to Southern Lab, the Eagles are 22-2.
“The thing I’ll remember most about these guys is how much they enjoy being around each other,” Fitzhugh said. “Usually senior-itis sets in when spring sports hit, but I’ve heard several of them talking about playing other sports just so they can be together.
“It’s a special bond you don’t see very often and that’s what makes these guys so special.”
Follow Adam on Twitter @adam_hunsucker