By Bryan Davis
Four years ago, Leroy Gregg was asked to take over the reigns as head coach of the Oak Hill Academy Raiders. For the last three seasons, the 35-year veteran coach has been at the helm of the Raider program, but after Friday night’s season-ending loss to Winston, Gregg announced that he will not return for a fourth season.
“The first week in October, I went to the doctor so I could get some medicine refilled,” Gregg said. “I found out that I’ve sort of let my health slip a little bit. I had some disturbing blood pressure and cholesterol numbers.”
Gregg says that the daily rigors of being a head coach have kept him from focusing on his health.
“I’m going to have to spend more time on myself than I have been spending,” Gregg said. “There’s only one way to be really accomplish that. It’s hard to be a head football coach at any level, and to do it right, you have to take care of the kids first. For the last four years, that’s what I’ve been doing.”
When Gregg came on board as head coach at Oak Hill, he brought a powerful resume, after coaching nine years in Aberdeen and 16 more in Amory. During his time at Amory, Gregg amassed three championship rings, and he coached in three separate championship games.
Coming from a program that boasted up to 100 kids at times, Gregg knew it would be different. However, he wanted to bring to Oak Hill the coaching style that brought so much success in Amory.
“I took it because I felt like I could make football life better for these boys,” Gregg said. “From that time, that has been my primary focus, trying to improve the football way of life here.”
Since then, the Raiders have gone home without a winning season, but they have enjoyed success in other aspects of the game.
“If all the success is measured by wins and losses, it would have to be viewed as not very successful for the last three years,” Gregg said. “But as far as growth and maturity of players is concerned, I have been well satisfied. I don’t mean growth in size, I mean growth in character, and taking responsibility for themselves, their position and place on this football team. I think we’ve had some vast improvements in those areas.”
In 2009, the Raiders had more numbers on their roster, but injuries ended the season for so many players. In 2010, the squad started with less than 20 players. On the last night of the season, they dressed out 15 players.
“We never used numbers as an excuse,” Gregg said. “We always had enough to play, sometimes just barely. If you want to look for excuses, you can always find them.”
The Raiders did not use the lack of players as a reason for their lack of success on the field, but it was the dealing with that situation that sticks out most in Gregg’s mind as he reflects on his time at Oak Hill.
“It was learning how to coach when you’ve only got 15 kids,” Gregg said.
Gregg had come from an environment where numbers ranged from 90 to 100 players on a team each season.
“Most years in Amory, I would have over 30 offensive linemen, and that’s only five positions. This was an entirely different ball game.”
The situation was just as challenging for the kids as it was for the coaches, as they learned multiple positions on each side of the ball.
“I believe Clay Henley, this year, could eight positions on the defense,” Gregg said. “Having to make sure that if somebody goes down, regardless of who all has to get moved, you could move other people into spots and cover whatever happens. We’ve had to do that for three years.”
Gregg says that practices were often a total team effort, including players, coaches and even managers.
“I’m going to say in my three years here, in however many practices we had, we had 22 players in probably less than 10 practices,” Gregg said. “We were always sticking coaches and managers into positions, one way or another, so the offense or defense could get an 11-man look, and sometimes we couldn’t even do that.”
Two weeks ago, Gregg and the Oak Hill community honored the senior class. Two of the three who were recognized, Doss Miller and Jordan Hawkins, were there when Gregg took over as coach three years ago.
“It was always a small class,” Gregg said. “I think when they were sophomores, there were two of them. We picked up one last year, and he left school. Then we picked up one this year. Jordan (Hawkins) and Doss (Miller have been here every year.”
Gregg said that even though it was a small class, those two seniors built a lot of character in those three years.
“Those two guys have improved every year,” Gregg said. “Doss weighted 132 pounds his first year, and he started a game at free safety, as a sophomore, at 132 pounds. If there was ever a truism that you cannot judge a book by its cover, he’s certainly that person.”
Gregg, who enjoyed a round of golf this week, will be leave behind a solid group that will return next year for the Raiders. Even though their old coach will be spending time with family and getting healthy, they will carry to the field the things he taught them on the practice turf.