Imagine you grew up doing something you really enjoyed. Loved it, even. You did it in junior high, and then high school. You even got to do it in college. Then the opportunity came along, and you decided to make it a career. But then it’s 40 years later, and you decide it’s time for something else. You’re not sure what exactly yet or even if you can stay away forever, but you want to try to see how the rest of the world lives.
That’d be pretty great, right? Live your passion, and then walk away on your own terms. Well that’s Oxford coach Johnny Hill. He’s going to step down as the Chargers’ football coach after they play Wayne County in the Class 5A state title game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford on Saturday night.
“I played a lot of sports. Football, basketball, baseball, track,” Hill said. “Football was always real special to me. it’s a fun game. It’s a physical game. It’s a mental game. I had some really good coaches … I just couldn’t see doing anything else.”
It’s been 22 years for Hill in the Oxford School District — from 1992 to 1996 he was the head coach, left for Tupelo for four years but came back in 2000 and has been a Charger ever since. He’s done really well, too — Oxford is playing in its fourth state championship game under Hill, and has been involved in the last two.
But the Chargers have yet to win one. Hill insisted this fact does not mean this week is about him, or the idea of him going out in glory. There are 27 seniors on this roster, and most of them have played together since they were in the second grade. Twice they’ve come this far and experienced heartbreak. It’s for them, not him.
“I don’t think it’ll be an issue,” Hill said. “It’ll come back down to can we block that defensive line?”
This season has not been without its struggles. Oxford lost to Starkville on ESPNU in Week 2, and then a week later lost at home to Madison Central. Suddenly Oxford, with two Dandy Dozen players (wide receiver Dekaylin Metcalf is headed to Ole Miss, while quarterback Jack Abraham will go to Tulane), was 1-2.
But then the Chargers got going. Starting with a win against rival Lafayette, Oxford has won 11 in a row. Now they’re 12-2 and playing Wayne County (11-3) for the state championship. Hill was quick to point out how good Wayne County (led by Ole Miss commit Benito Jones at defensive tackle) is — “We’re small and slow, and they’re big and fast. We’ll try to give them a game.” — but the truth is Oxford is pretty dang good, too. And well coached.
“You better be prepared,” Wayne County coach Todd Mangum said about playing Oxford and Hill. “You better all have your I’s dotted and your T’s crossed. He’s detailed. That’s a big thing we must face this week is being prepared because his teams will be. He does an outstanding job. Always has.
“We’ll see something Saturday night that we haven’t seen. He’s a great innovator.”
The truth is Hill is not sure what happens next. He’ll go turkey hunting and deer hunting, and play with the grandkids. That much he knows. But he’s only 61, so “I’m not going to sit at home and watch TV now.”
He’ll miss the people, from the players to coaches in his region to the guys like Mangum he has worked with at the state level for a long time. So will Hill show up again somewhere else down the line? It would not be unheard of in this profession — born a coach, die a coach, as they say. But is it already in the works? Nope.
“Everybody asks me what my plans are. I have no plans until I get through with the football, and then it’ll hit and sink in and do what we need to do,” Hill said. “I’ll be working or building or playing or doing something. Haven’t thought about it, really.”
Contact Hugh Kellenberger at (601) 961-7190 or email@example.com. Follow @HKellenbergerCL on Twitter