Heading into games, each member of Oak Grove’s linebacker group has a goal of reaching double-digit tackles before the final buzzer sounds. But rather than chase the stats, they let the numbers add up naturally.
A season ago, Javarian Jenkins stressed the plan to his fellow linebackers before every game.
“I would just tell them, ‘Don’t think about stats, we coming to play ball’. We just go out on the field and play,” Jenkins said. “That’s the only thing we can do.”
Jenkins and Tyree Jackson roamed the outside, while Joey Griffith and Graham McCarty manned the middle. Together, they averaged 30 tackles per game and combined to make over 400 during their junior seasons in 2018.
Griffith led all Warrior defenders with 165, and Jenkins (129), Jackson (89) and McCarty (68) all finished in the top seven. Fifth-year coach Drew Causey pointed to Oak Grove’s senior-laden and oft-double teamed defensive line as a major reason for the production.
“If we don’t play great upfront, the offensive line is getting on linebackers, and they’re not gonna be able to make plays,” Causey said. “Our defensive line has gotta play well for those guys to have that type of success.
Their togetherness should not be discounted either. Jenkins, Jackson and McCarty have known one another since the second grade, while Griffith moved to Oak Grove in the seventh. Now they eat together after practice, hang out at each other’s houses, etc.
“We’ve gotten to be such close friends, and I really think it helps us on the field,” McCarty said. “If I think I messed up, I know one of these guys is gonna come in and make that play. It helps us play faster and harder knowing we got each other to count on.”
And with Oak Grove losing 30-plus seniors off last year’s team, more players from other position groups will be counting on the veteran group of now senior linebackers.
“They’re doing a really good job this summer of taking on that leadership role,” Causey said. “Sometimes I gotta pull them back a little bit because it is the summer, but they’re doing a good job of trying to get the rest of the team to buy in and do what they’re supposed to do.”
To Jackson, it’s like passing the torch.
“Last year, the seniors taught us how to step up, so right now we’re trying to get everybody together as a team,” he said. “We’re trying to pass that same stuff to the younger guys so that when we leave, they know what to do.”
Oak Grove fell one win short of capturing the program’s second state championship last season after dropping a 31-27 decision to Horn Lake for the Class 6A State Championship at M.M. Roberts Stadium. After coming up short and losing the talent they did, McCarty says the Warriors have something to prove this fall.
“Going to the big game and coming up short against Horn Lake, it put a chip on our shoulders, especially this group right here because we had a big part in that,” McCarty said. “But we definitely wanna get back there and hopefully come out on top this time.”
In addition to losing several starters on the defensive line and in the secondary, the Warriors also lost defensive coordinator Larry Dolan, who was hired as D’Iberville’s head coach after one season at Oak Grove. Benjie Merchant, who spent the last two seasons at Jefferson Davis County, has assumed the role.
“He [Merchant] is a defensive-minded guy to where he wants to do whatever we can to stop somebody,” Causey said. “I think we’ll be kinda similar to what we were last year. We’ll be similar, but we’ll also be a lot different. We’re gonna try to get after some people.”