Prediction: Oak Mountain ready for next chapter under Shane McComb

Published 5:23 pm Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

NORTH SHELBY – The Oak Mountain Eagles have opened a new chapter with a new man in charge.

Shane McComb was hired from California to lead the Oak Mountain program as they hope to finally break through in a crowded and competitive region.

McComb has gotten right to work rebuilding the Eagles, and that starts with their culture. With a new coaching staff at the helm, the team has become more detail-oriented, as well as more focused on doing everything with one purpose, which has unified the Eagles.

The entire team is bought in, from the experienced veterans to the young talent that McComb hopes to build for the future. McComb said that it’s uncommon to see even the older players so bought in, but he and the players said that is because they want to be held accountable and see the program run well.

With that, they are focused and ready to win as many games as possible this year. That will be easier said than done in Class 7A, Region 3, but Oak Mountain certainly has the energy and talent to exceed expectations this year.

That talent starts with Will O’Dell, who returns as the starting quarterback this year. As an upperclassman, he aims to lead by example and keep the team’s vibes up while showing everyone around him what a winning mindset looks like. He believes that the offense has adjusted well to offensive coordinator Ross Robinson’s new system, and they have taken big leaps since the spring.

One of the reasons he believes the Eagles offense has gotten better is because the skill positions have stepped up, including running back Le’Kamren Meadows, who has turned from a background player to starter as just a sophomore.

That’s because McComb sees a bright future for him, and that future starts now as he will be the main contributor in the run game.

While the running game will be a youth movement in 2023, the receiver room is led by veterans. Oak Mountain will have two great seniors leading the receiving corps in Sawyer Smith and Tristyn Vardaman. Smith has been out for most of the summer with an injury, but according to McComb, he’ll be back before the season starts and be a frequent target this year. The injury hasn’t been all bad news for the Eagles since it led to Jacob Moore stepping up in his place in practice, and he will be the one to go to when O’Dell wants to make a big play. Vardaman has also taken a big leap this offseason, and he’ll hope to translate that spring and summer work into a great senior season on the field.

While McComb has had to replace three starters on the offensive line, he and O’Dell are optimistic about the unit. McComb said that there are six or seven players on the offensive line that they trust. He will need to fill three spots left by graduating seniors Luke Oswalt, Sawyer Hutto and Hudson Youngblood, and those will be some of the most important players to replace on the roster.

McComb is excited about the experienced group the Eagles have on defensive line, including upperclassmen Ty Campbell, Caleb Jaworski and Daveon Johnson. They will also have Joey Lewis, Jordan Pierce and converted running back Ian Laughlin as solid options at that position.

McComb likes his linebackers to get tackles in bunches, which is why Jacob Porco is a great choice to lead that group. Porco said the defense is solid in its foundations and is all-in on McComb’s strategies. He will be paired with Colton Moore, and freshman William Yoder will slide in if Moore plays on the defensive line.

Over in the secondary, the unit will be led by Sean Ray, who is still just a junior but has stepped up as a great cornerback. Ray will play alongside Jayden Aparicio to create a formidable corner duo, while hard-nosed juniors Cole Kelley and Robert Yoder will be a tough pair of safeties to beat.

Oak Mountain will also have James Woughtley back as kicker and punter, and his ability to hit 45-55 yard field goals will help the Eagles get points out of tricky situations in midfield.

If some of those players look out of place from last year’s roster, that’s because McComb and the staff have been moving players around all summer long. Their goal has been to create the best possible roster by finding the best position for each player to be in and coaching them from there. As a result, he said players have been breaking out all over the place and improving.

In McComb’s eyes, you wouldn’t believe that this is the same team that took the field last year. Only time will tell if those improvements translate onto the field this season, but it’s at least a start towards a brighter future at Oak Mountain.

2022 prediction (3-7): While I am very optimistic for the future of Oak Mountain and the energy that McComb will bring to the program, that doesn’t change the present much. This is year one of a rebuild, and the beginning is always difficult. Almost every team around the Eagles in the region is getting better, and Oak Mountain just has too many questions to answer for me to have confidence that they will improve on last year’s result. This is arguably one of the hardest regions to rebuild in because the standard of play is so high and the bar they have to clear in order to make the playoffs and contend for a region championship is even higher. The Eagles will face nationally-ranked teams while they rebuild simply because that is the nature of Region 3. The one thing that you can bet on is that the seniors and upperclassmen will give it their all now that they are behind a coach that they want to win with. McComb is determined to win as many games as he can with this group of players. That will allow Oak Mountain to surprise some teams this year and help give the Eagles some momentum to build on for the future with their young core.