During the 2019 offseason, the Oak Hall Eagles football team was left scrambling after seven players, including star quarterback Cole Gonzales transferred in search of other opportunities. In his last season at Oak Hall, Gonzales thrived in the team’s spread offense and thrashed defenses for a total of 2,112 yards via the air along with 24 touchdowns and only five interceptions. His departure created a colossal void and forced the coaching staff to make changes.
Who is the Quarterback?
After Gonzales left, Eagles Head Coach R.J. Fuhr immediately began the search for their next leader. Amongst the fog, wide receiver Andrew Pickens stepped up and assumed the quarterback position. During the season prior, Pickens was second on the team in receiving yards with 619 and first in touchdowns with nine.
One would think Pickens was an unlikely candidate for the job considering his previous success at a different position. Even so, when Fuhr was asked what led to him selecting Pickens as their quarterback, he said Andrew was the only player that came to mind. “I felt like he would grasp the offense well, which he did, and be able to lead.” Additionally, although Fuhr was confident Pickens would be able to step up and be the guy at the helm, he was concerned regarding how Andrew would respond to the question of making the change. Fortunately, his concerns were unneeded and according to Fuhr, Pickens responded by saying “whatever the team needs, coach.” Ultimately, Pickens thrived and led the team to an undefeated regular season.
In previous years, the Eagles featured a spread scheme and the offensive needle was often pushed by the passing game. Once Gonzales left and Pickens stepped up, that system was no longer viable and the team needed to adjust. Fortunately, that was just the opportunity Fuhr had been waiting for and he pounced.
During 2018, when he became the team’s head coach, it was during Week 3 of the season. Subsequently, he had to roll with the offense in place. Then, when Gonzalez transferred, it gave Fuhr his first opportunity to put his imprint on the team. Radically different from the spread, Fuhr switched to the single wing. As a result, the offense converted from air raid to ground and pound. When asked what led to the decision, Fuhr said, “I considered what system is going to fit us in the long run. Sometimes you have to tweak your systems to fit your personnel. We are a small school, very academic driven and we are going to have a certain athlete here. I think in the long run, the single-wing fits us the best.”
Fuhr was correct and the single-wing appears to have become the system of the Eagles for the foreseeable future.
As always with football, just when you have things figured out, the next obstacle arises. For Fuhr and Pickens, the season was a massive success. Even so, Pickens is a senior, and similar to last year, Fuhr entered this offseason again without his quarterback.
Different from before, the team has been grooming a backup who is eager to fill Andrew’s shoes. The man for the job is rising freshman Dakota Bower who is eager to get to work. When asked about Bower, Fuhr said, “He’s an incredible athlete, he was our quarterback for the middle school team, and to be honest with you, he was a man amongst boys.”
Fuhr has great confidence in Bower, but that will not make the youngsters’ job any easier. He will be stepping up to lead a team that just went to the state championship. That said, if there ever was a man for the job, Bower is the guy.
Transition to Eleven-Man
While the quarterback change is major, it is one of many offseason topics that Oak Hall will need to address. Arguably even more importantly, the team is switching from eight-man football to eleven-man football. Quite frankly, for teams and their personnel, it changes everything. When talking about how it will affect Oak Hall, Fuhr said, “My offensive coordinator and I are going to meet tomorrow afternoon. We are transitioning all of our plays in the huddle to eleven-man. There is not a whole lot that changes, it’s just we can add some guys.” Showing no signs of concern, Fuhr is very confident he will be able to adjust, and has given no reason to doubt him. Throughout his career, changing offenses and quarterbacks, Fuhr has shown that he thrives amongst adversity.
Although they are coming off a state championship run, the Eagles have their offseason work cut out for them. Oak Hall is both losing their quarterback and moving to eleven-man football. They are also losing one of their most productive playmakers, Jalen Scott, who is moving to Washington D.C. While there is reason to be nervous, Fuhr has given Oak Hall supporters plenty of reason to remain confident and have another successful season.