By Harland Stewart
The Oxford High School football team brings a different excitement to the community that can’t be explained – just felt. Their recent success over the years can not be denied, even amid the transition of moving up a division from 5A to 6A competition.
Chris Cutcliffe, head coach of the blue and gold, plays a huge role in bringing excitement and success to the town. His father, David Cutcliffe, is a former head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels and current head coach of the Duke Blue Devils. Today, Cutcliffe credits his father for inspiring him to coach and his mother for giving him the inspiration to be a teacher.
“As long as I can remember I wanted to coach football,” Cutcliffe said.
During the time David was head coach of Ole Miss, Chris was the quarterback at Oxford High School. They made their history as the first Charger team to make an appearance in the state competition.
“I think that Oxford has been a great program for a long time. I think this team, what sets it apart is a really big, really great senior class,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ve had some others of those come through over the years, but this is a really strong senior class with really great senior leadership and I think it has made a big difference for our team this year.”
Wins, bragging rights, being around the sport—these are some reasons many coaches go into the profession. However, Cutcliffe said he’s driven by a different agenda.
“My favorite thing about being a coach is the relationships that you build in football,” he said. “You know you spend a lot of time together, with the players and with other coaches, and go through a lot of hard work together. So you really have a tight bond as a team.”
That tight bond and success the Chargers share are developed through hard work on and off the field. Hard work could be in a classroom, in the game, in practice, during film sessions, or in workouts. There is only so much a head coach can manage and accomplish in a short time. Cutcliffe said its all a team effort.
“We give our coaches Saturday off, but most of us spend a good bit of time watching film from home,” Cutcliffe said. “We meet on Sundays to try to make sure we are on the same page so when we see our players, beginning on Monday afternoon, we are able to all relay the message to our position groups. Everybody kind of knows exactly what the plan is and everybody is on the page so we have a chance to be successful.”
Cutcliffe builds a consistent structure that entails an increasingly popular ideology that began in college football. The idea was first made popular by former head football coach Chip Kelly at Oregon.
“Two days before your game is your lightest walkthrough practice day, and then we actually run full speed and do a full-speed work the day before the game,” Cutcliffe said. “I think our guys kind of thrive on routine and knowing what to expect. We don’t practice that long. A long day for us would be a two-hour practice. But when we are on the field, we are moving and going, getting a lot of work in.”
Colton Skidmore is a former athlete who played under Cutcliffe in high school. After playing college ball, Skidmore came back home to coach alongside Cutcliffe.
“I’ll say this to anybody,” Skidmore said. “Coach Cutcliffe is the best football coach in the state of Mississippi for a few reasons. The first reason – he knows his football. He is an offensive mastermind and can draw up plays all day long. I’ve learned a lot of football from him. But also, I think that the biggest thing I’ve learned from him is how to handle and teach kids things that don’t just apply to football.”
Assistant coaches and players all attest that Cutcliffe has a positive influence on young athletes and future leaders. Much of that came from being immersed in the sport and in Charger football for most of his life. Despite that, this year’s team in particular has inspired him in the same way.
“I think that maybe with this team, in particular, just the selflessness of our players makes a huge impact on me,” Cutcliffe said. “I see so many guys that are just committed to the team and to the group, and I think that is becoming more and more of a rarity in our society today. There is so little selfish and so little ego with our players. Just seeing them buy into that idea and really lay it on the line for each other is a really cool thing to see and be a part of.”
In December of 2019, the Oxford Chargers climbed the 6A finals ladder to bring home the state championship trophy. The honor marks their first state championship in school history.