Prep football preview: Son of Oxford coaching great putting stamp on team with goal to ‘win every game’
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Aug 17, 2013 | 4493 views |  0 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Oxford's Ryan Herring is a graduate of the school and in his first year as the football team's head coach. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
Oxford's Ryan Herring is a graduate of the school and in his first year as the football team's head coach. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
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OXFORD -- Some might expect the son of Robert Herring to get quite a honeymoon period as Oxford High's football coach.

Don’t expect it from Ryan Herring. In fact, don’t expect him to talk much about the connection, unless asked.

“I don’t know,” the first-year Yellow Jackets coach said when asked if he ever catches himself sounding like his dad in practice. “I probably need to.”

The elder Herring delivered three Class 5A titles at Oxford, but the day has come for Ryan Herring to try to get it done his way, in 6A.

Ryan Herring’s first Oxford team as its coach plays its preseason jamboree Friday at Oak Mountain and opens the regular season Aug. 31 at home against Carrollton, Ga.

The 1994 grad and former safety has spent the months since his hiring shaping a team that lives by the mantra of outworking everybody, including the all-too-familiar 6A schools that have more than twice Oxford’s enrollment.

He’s been busy converting a spread team to the pistol-pro offense and doing it with three returning starters -- none on a smallish line.

He’s been busy installing a 3-4 defense and doing it without departed stars such as linemen Trent Simpson and Ulric Jones. Oh, and middle linebacker Weston Caldwell dislocated his knee in spring practice and isn’t expected back until the third game.

That game will be against 6A, Region 7 rival Gadsden City and will come a week after Oxford plays second-ranked region foe Clay Chalkville on the road.

Oxford has one of the nation’s top running backs in Auburn commitment Racean Thomas and returns quarterback Ty Webber, but they weren’t enough to get the Yellow Jackets in the playoffs a year ago. The finished 6-4 and missed by one agonizing loss at Pell City.

Honeymoon? Ryan Herring is not expecting one, and he didn’t need a pep talk from dad when he took the job.

“I grew up with it my whole life, and I’ve seen the job here,” said Ryan Herring, who is 46-25 in seven seasons as a head coach at Shelby County and Lincoln. “The people want a winner here. If you don’t win enough, you’re not going to be around long. If you’re not in the playoffs, you’re probably not going to be coaching here very long.

“It’s just expected. You’d better find a way to get in the playoffs here.”

So, Ryan Herring knew what he was getting into when he replaced John Grass, who resigned to become Bill Clark’s offensive coordinator at Jacksonville State University.

And don’t sell him on notions that Oxford is disadvantaged in 6A. He’ll tell you about 1997, when Oxford made the 6A quarterfinals under his dad and had a 20-10 lead with four minutes to play against eventual champion Tuscaloosa County.

Oxford made the 6A semifinals in 2011, under Grass, with a team that produced nearly 10 college signees.

Ryan Herring acknowledges that Oxford won’t consistently have depth comparable to that of programs such as Hoover. There’s a difference between 900 and 2,500 students.

Then again, “there are not a lot of big, big schools in Alabama, compared to Georgia, but there are some,” he said. “I don’t really think you’re going to have to face those numbers every week. It isn’t like everybody we play has 2,000-plus.”

So, the playoffs are reachable, and Oxford can have years such as 1997 and 2011, when it has peak quality among its quantity.

“There’s going to be years when you have a better chance to compete for a state championship than others, and that’s just a fact,” Ryan Herring said. “Our goal is going to be to win every game we play, every year.

“A lot of people might say their goal is to get in the playoffs or win a state championship. Our goal is to win every game we play at 7 o’clock on Friday nights. That’s the goal.”

That’s where coaching comes in, and Herring makes a point to not make a point of enrollment with his players. They see him making a point of fast-paced practices with no standing around.

They learn in the film room and hit on the practice field.

“He’s very intense, and the team is just coming together real good,” Webber said. “I’m pretty excited about the season.

“He’s a lot more upbeat and up-tempo. He’s all about getting after it. I like it that way.”

Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, jmedley@annistonstar.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star..

Oxford at a glance.

Head coach: Ryan Herring (46-25 in seven seasons as head coach; entering first season at Oxford).

Last year’s record: 6-4, including 4-3 and fifth-place finish in Class 6A, Region 7.

Outlook: Oxford has a new head coach and just three starters back on offense, but it’s a brand-name coach in Ryan Herring, son of Oxford coaching great Robert Herring, and those three returning starters will do the bulk of the ball handling. Star running back and Auburn commitment Racean Thomas, quarterback Ty Webber and H-back/running back Desmon Owens return to lead the way in the new pistol-formation, pro-style offense. On defense, Herring is counting on what he projects as a strong line to anchor a 3-4 look. Herring is anchoring his program on outworking deeper 6A teams, but the playoffs are a baseline goal. With Thomas leading the way, the playoffs should be within reach.

Schedule.

Aug. 30, vs. Carrollton (Ga.)

Sept. 6, at Clay Chalkville

Sept. 13, vs. Gadsden City

Sept. 20, vs. Huntsville

Sept. 27, at Florence

Oct. 4, at Lee-Huntsville

Oct. 11, vs. Grissom

Oct. 18, at Albertville

Oct. 25, vs. Pell City

Nov. 1, vs. Spain Park
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