The Benjie Merchant era has officially begun at Oak Hill Academy.
Tuesday evening, coach Merchant and his new staff were introduced to several parents and students at the football field.
Merchant, a Laurel native, said the opportunity to come back closer to home was just too good to miss.
“The passion for Mississippi football is like no other,” he said. “I missed that.”
Oak Hill headmaster Bill Miley said the school is very excited to have him on board.
Merchant comes from a long line of coaches, both his father and uncle have patrolled the sidelines for over 60 years. He spent the last few seasons in Panama City, Fla. and said the transition since being hired as been an easy one for him and his family.
“It's been smooth,” he said. “The people have been great in helping me get here and getting us settled in.”
The biggest difference between public school and academy football is arguably the most challenging. Although traditionally, academy schools have a smaller turnout for football, depending on enrollment, Merchant says over 40 boys have already committed themselves to summer workouts which are slated to start July 25.
The Raiders last season had just three victories. And Merchant says he and the coaches are going to work real hard to change that mental philosophy to put a few more wins on their schedule in 2011.
“We're just going to keep it simple,” he said. “We just want to try and get the most out of them. We're not going to to do anything new. It's old school.”
Not only will this be a fresh start for the football program, but for athletics in general. Miley complimented the conduct by both the players and the parents for representing the school well where other institutions have been reprimanded for their actions.
“I think about how wonderful it is to be at Oak Hill,” he said. “Where players play hard and give all they've got and do it in a sportsmanlike manner. And the parents do the same.”
Miley issued a challenge to the friends and family of the school to continue to support Oak Hill in all sports.
“I can promise you we have some good coaches who are going to ask a lot out of these young people,” he said. “They are going to require them to give their all and in my mind that's all we can ask.”