By Shailey Klein
The Florida Athletic Coaches Association (FACA) recently released its all-district team selections, “Coach of the Year” awards, and “Player of the Year” awards. Saying Oak Hall football left its mark in North Central Florida would be an understatement. Head Football Coach R.J. Fuhr received the “Class 2A District 7 Coach of the Year” award, while sophomore Cole Gonzales received the “Class 2A District 7 Player of the Year” award. The sophomore quarterback and captain of the Oak Hall football team was the only underclassman to be recognized as Player of the Year for all classifications. In addition, senior captain Zhai Smith was selected to the All-District team at cornerback.
When asked about his initial reaction to receiving the “Coach of the Year” award, Fuhr stated that he felt very honored, but was more excited for his players receiving recognition. “Cole being named ‘2A Player of the Year’, the only underclassman named, and then Zhai [being selected after having] worked so hard, I was just glad for those guys,” Fuhr stated.
Going into the season, Fuhr mentioned that he was not exactly sure how the team would pan out. With a very underclassmen-heavy team, Fuhr stated “[I] didn’t know what to expect with only four seniors.” During the spring game, senior Julian Scott was injured, leaving the team with five offensive linemen. This caused Fuhr to bring up three eighth graders to the varsity team.
The season opener was a tough game against a very talented Hawthorne team who advanced to the state semifinals last season. Although Oak Hall lost, showing they could play with Hawthorne “was a good confidence booster for our team,” Fuhr mentioned.
Fuhr added that one of the biggest games of growth for the team was the Hilliard game. “We went to Hilliard and we were down by three scores and came back in the 4th quarter,” Fuhr stated. The week after, the team was down four starters in a tough loss to Aucilla Christian. “We faced adversity and then came back and won three in a row,” Fuhr stated proudly.
On Nov. 8, No. 3 seed Oak Hall hosted No. 6 seed St. Francis Catholic in the regional quarterfinal game. This was only the third Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) football game Oak Hall has competed in. Prior to the game, Fuhr told his team “we could literally make history Friday night.” And history, they made. Oak Hall came out firing from all cylinders, overpowering the Wolves in a 47-0 effort. Fuhr stated that his biggest concern was that the team wouldn’t take St. Francis lightly, adding that “it’s hard to beat a team twice in a season.”
With the victory over St. Francis, the team now heads south to Winter Garden, Fla. to take on the No. 2 seed, Foundation Academy Lions, this Friday. Fuhr mentioned that they have already started looking at film of them and their senior standout quarterback. Fuhr added that their goal is to get as deep as they can into the playoffs, and Foundation Academy is simply the next challenge they will face.
Despite all of the ups and downs of the season, Fuhr stated that one of the best parts has been “seeing how we can come together as a team and as a family”. He added that they’ve become a really tight-knit group and he’s really proud of how hard the team has worked.