Jack Abraham and John Rhys Plumlee find themselves in the same locales from time to time. It’s no wonder. For starters, both are Mississippians who play quarterback at Mississippi universities.
Beyond that, their two high school teams met at M.M. Roberts Stadium on the University of Southern Mississippi campus last December for the state championship of Class 6A football. Plumlee’s alma mater, Oak Grove, won the first half. But Abraham’s former team, Oxford, won the game.
The Chargers roared back from a 21-3 halftime deficit to win the title by a 31-21 final. Few in the stadium were likely happier than Abraham. Oxford had its first state football crown, and Abraham was right there for it.
Four years earlier, in December 2015, Abraham helped lead Oxford to the state championship game of Class 5A (OHS has since moved up to 6A) against Wayne County at Ole Miss’ Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. It was the third straight title game for the Chargers, and the previous two times they’d lost.
Oxford had a chance to win this one late. But on an apparent touchdown run by Abraham to the southeast corner of the end zone on Hollingsworth Field, officials ruled he stepped out of bounds before he scored. On top of that, on that very play, Abraham broke his collarbone when he hit the ground.
There was time for one more play. Abraham remained in the game, and DK Metcalf’s attempt to get into the end zone was just short as the War Eagles defense, led by Metcalf’s future Ole Miss teammate, Benito Jones, came up with the final stop.
The Chargers lost 45-41. A postgame moment turned photo is a reminder of the anguish felt by those in blue and gold as legendary Oxford head coach Johnny Hill and his last quarterback, Jack Abraham, embraced on the field. It was the end of the line for both at Oxford as Hill retired from coaching.
In his senior season on the gridiron with the Chargers, Abraham garnered the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year as well as Parade All-America honorable mention.
Abraham’s next journey was just beginning. He had committed to Tulane during high school, but a week after the state title game in 2015, Abraham wasn’t headed to New Orleans for college. The Green Wave staff, led by head coach Curtis Johnson, was let go. Abraham announced he would look at other options.
He chose to attend Louisiana Tech, and he headed to Ruston where he redshirted for one season. He then went to Northwest Mississippi Community College for a season and led the Rangers to the state title game as the North champion. The Rangers lost in a dramatic and high-scoring shootout 67-66 to East Mississippi in two overtimes. During the regular season, Northwest had beaten East 61-38.
After that, Abraham headed to Southern Mississippi to play for former Ole Miss player and assistant coach Jay Hopson, the current Golden Eagle head coach and, like the Abrahams, a Vicksburg native.
At the home of former star quarterbacks like Jeff Bower, Reggie Collier, Nick Mullens, and Brett Favre, Abraham is set to again start in his final season of amateur football and join the list of greats to grace the field at USM.
Abraham credits many, including his dad, Michael Abraham, and their family, as being an important part of his journey, especially through the winding road that was college, at least those first couple of years.
“That’s something my dad always talks to me about,” he said. “When times get tough, just put your head down and keep working. That’s always something that’s been good for me throughout my whole career. In anybody’s football career, there’s always a ton of ups and downs. Just having those thoughts in the back of my head, just knowing that if you stay the course and keep working hard, things will get better.”
Abraham, at 6-foot, 205, started all but two games that first season in 2018, only sidelined when he had an injury. He boasted a 79.3 percent adjusted completion rating which ranked him third in the country by Pro Football Focus. Abraham had a record-setting day against the Rice Owls as he passed for 428 yards through the air, the sixth 400-plus yard game in program history at USM.
Moving into the 2019 season he started every game and looks forward to suiting up for the black and gold again this fall.
That he’s overcome so much to get to this point is a major part of his story. That included his height and weight back when he was being recruited. Some said it might prevent him from excelling at the highest level in college. He heard it often.
“That was really my knock. But I knew when I started playing high school that once I got out there to compete with those guys, I could throw with anybody else. But that was always going to be my knock.”
In this crazy offseason of no spring football and no on-campus activities, Abraham and Plumlee were once again in the same locale, this time working out from time to time at Mobile, Alabama’s “QB Country” where former Ole Miss quarterback David Morris heads things up. Since both were in Hattiesburg, the short drive to Mobile made it the perfect spot to workout during the global pandemic.
“I went down there back in seventh or eighth grade and started working out with him (Morris) a little bit,” Abraham said. “He’s helped me out a lot.”
Abraham said even losing those three state title games at Oxford High, including the heartbreaker as a senior at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, aided him in becoming the quarterback and person he is.
“The way that game ended helped me mature into the guy I am today,” Abraham said. “It took a lot of toughness to get through that, and with the broken collarbone. And the week after that, the Tulane coaches got fired. So I was kind of stuck with nothing. That taught me resiliency and sticking to the course. Obviously I didn’t finish the high school career the way I wanted. But that’s helped build some characteristics since then for me.”
And the journey now continues with his fifth and final season of college football as the leader of the Golden Eagles in 2020.
“I’ve always been close to Coach Hopson, having the Vicksburg roots,” he said. “When I was in high school, he was at Alcorn State (as head coach). It worked out that I could get down here and play under him. It’s been a blast. He’s a football guy. He’s helped me out a lot and has given me the opportunity to play.”
Last season the Golden Eagles were 7-3 before losing to Western Kentucky, Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic team, and a game to Tulane in Fort Worth’s Armed Forces Bowl to finish 7-6. In the bowl game, Abraham sustained a shoulder injury at halftime with USM leading.
He’s excited about the 2020 season and hopeful of an even better year.
“We’re bringing back a lot of the offensive line. We’ve got a few receivers back but lost some. But we’re also bringing some in. There’s good talent. Just looking forward to diving in this summer and into the playbook. It’s definitely been a unique situation (this spring).”
Glancing back a bit at Oxford’s shining moment last December on the field Abraham now calls home, he remains very happy for his alma mater and its people.
“That was awesome. I was kind of in the corner closer to the Oak Grove fans and I was getting riled up. I was so excited for (Oxford) and so happy for all those guys. I’m obviously older than them but I watched them grow up. (OHS head) Coach (Chris) Cutcliffe definitely deserved it too. He’s a really good coach and it couldn’t happen to a better guy.”
Ole Miss and Southern Miss haven’t played football since 1984. Mississippi State stopped playing the Golden Eagles in 1990 but in recent years they’ve played a handful of times in Hattiesburg and in Starkville, including last season.
Although he wouldn’t actually be on the field, Abraham said he would like to see Ole Miss and USM play football again.
“I think it would be awesome,” he said. “I won’t have that opportunity, but I feel like it would be good for the state of Mississippi. I’d love to see it.”
Time will tell about that. For now, it’s all about the hope for a “normal” 2020 season for football players everywhere, including Jack Abraham as he winds up his college journey.
“It’s been a roller coaster for sure,” he said of his years since Oxford High. “Without any step of the way, if one of those steps hadn’t happened, I don’t think I would be where I am today. It shaped me for who I am today, and I’m very thankful for it.”
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