By Jared Redding
J610 Student Choice
In 1987, Drew Tyler was a student-athlete at Oxford High School who simply wanted to play a sport he loved: basketball.
However, that year Tyler’s close-knit team did more than enjoy playing basketball. The team made history and won the school’s first state championship in any sport. All of a sudden, the identity of Oxford athletics changed, and that identity can be seen within the school today.
Fast forward to 2023 when OHS has won a total of 76 state championships and 17 All-Sports awards.
The iconic “O-Bolt” logo that’s seen around Oxford, and sometimes beyond its borders, means a great deal to Tyler and Class of 2005 alumni Chris Cutcliffe and Cade Hoggard. The memories that it brought back and the weight it carried led all three alumni to return to the school to lead the programs of basketball, football and baseball.
After graduating from the University of Mississippi, Tyler’s basketball coaching ambitions coincided with an assistant coach opening at OHS in 1993 under John Sherman, Tyler’s high school basketball coach. Tyler took over as head coach for the 1996-1997 season and is still the head coach today, loving every second of it.
“I’ll say coaching basketball and teaching at the school district school that I graduated from is like having my cake and eating it too. And I’ve been eating it for 30 years,” Tyler said.
Over the span of 26 years, Tyler has won more than 70 percent of his games and made the state playoffs more than 90 percent of the time. In 2001, Tyler led the Chargers to their second boys basketball state championship in school history, 14 years after winning it all as a player.
Back then, Tyler recalled his student body having a never-before-seen pride in the school across the board from academics and athletics, including basketball. After taking the head coaching job at Oxford, Tyler has since made a deliberate effort to include students in his program by whatever means necessary.
He’s unlocked the storage area to get old uniforms for the students to wear, ordered same-color shirts for the student section, encouraged them to rock the building while at games and even invited the students to break it down with the team at mid-court after games.
“I grew up in a coaching family. If you don’t stay ahead, you’ll fall behind,” Tyler said. “And to stay ahead you rally your student body. They’ve got to feel they’re important to get invested. I think it has a lot to do with our players interacting with our student body. Now, we see it in football, definitely in basketball and in baseball.”
Cutcliffe and Hoggard, former classmates and teammates in football and baseball, took a similar approach to Tyler when it figuring out their calling. The two helped the football team make its first state championship appearance in program history and helped the baseball program win its first-ever state championship in 2005 with a sweep over Petal High School.
After graduating, Cutcliffe was a student assistant for his father David in the college football ranks before getting married and deciding his best option for raising a family. Like Tyler, fate intervened for Cutcliffe. An assistant coach position opened under Cutcliffe’s football coach Johnny Hill and he took it before the 2011 season. Cutcliffe produced All-State wide receivers and helped the Chargers make it to three consecutive state championships before Hill retired.
Cutcliffe learned about this plan before the season, and made sure to put his personal desires aside for the benefit of the program and school he loves so much.
“As soon as I learned that it was (Hill’s) last year. I made a decision to put my desire to be the next head coach in the back of my mind so I could focus on winning Coach Hill a state championship at the end of the season,” Cutcliffe recalled.
Cutcliffe was eventually named the program’s 11th head coach for the 2016 season and since then, Cutcliffe has kept Oxford’s winning tradition in football going and even elevated it to new heights. He’s compiled a 64-24 record in seven years and led Oxford to its first ever state championship in football, finishing the 2019 season No. 1 in the state of Mississippi.
Throughout his tenure, Cutcliffe has hired five assistant coaches who graduated from OHS, while also keeping Bobby Sanders, a former player whose dad was the program’s first head coach, around. Cutcliffe’s branding of the program has heavily including the program’s history of winning, former players and getting the point across that each player and staff member is competing for something bigger than themselves.
“Being a part of this program is understanding a couple of things. One, we’re not trying to just have one good team, or trying to continue to build the best football program in Mississippi. We’re thinking about making decisions in terms of the program, not in terms of just the ’23 team,” Cutcliffe said. “We have a role to play and one of our roles is to leave it better than we found it.”
After graduating from OHS the same year as Cutcliffe and winning a state championship in baseball, Hoggard returned to a baseball program in 2020 that has seen two state championship victories since and produced three professional baseball players, not to mention a No. 5 national ranking from USA Today in 2015.
Expectations were high following former head coach and current co-athletics director Chris Baughman, but Baughman believed in Hoggard and tabbed him to be the program’s next head coach after building successful programs at Olive Branch and Amory.
“When you get a chance to come back, I feel like you have to jump for it,” Hoggard said. “There’s a lot of good memories here. I’m very prideful about my time in Oxford. I coach for Oxford now, but I’ve coached against Oxford. I talked about how Oxford is viewed. When we lose, (opponents) are excited to win. When you play Oxford, it’s a big deal.”
Fast forward to the present day and Hoggard has already led the Chargers to the doorstep of a state championship series and, at the time of writing, the team is still alive in the Class 6A playoffs.