Last month, the Local Sports Journal published a 24-page high school football preview section. Here is the preview story on the Oakridge Eagles. If you would like to purchase a copy of the football section, send an email to [email protected]

Oakridge will rely on three senior standouts in, from left, Francis Decker, Zack Murphy and Jacob Shepherd. Photo by Rachel Resterhouse.

By Shawn Liverance
Local Sports Journal
Francis Decker, Zack Murphy and Jacob Shepherd have had plenty of success on the football field for the Oakridge Eagles.
As sophomores playing on the varsity, the three were part of an Oakridge team that won nine games and lost in the regional semifinals.
Last season, they were members of an Eagles team that also won nine games before losing in the district title game.
This year, the trio begins the season as the face of the Oakridge team.
“We all got to play with guys like Jamie Potts and Nick Eely and many others,” Decker said. “We learned things from all of them and now we want to be the leaders for the younger guys.”
“We want to leave our mark on the Oakridge program,” Murphy said. “We are motivated to win a state championship and leave our legacy on the Oakridge football program.”
Shepherd, who transferred from Fruitport before starting high school, quickly learned about the tradition of Oakridge football.
“When I got here, guys took me in,” Shepherd said. “They showed me what it took to win. That is what I want to try to show the younger players during my senior season.”
All three will be counted on to provide senior leadership and also production on the field this season for the Eagles.
Decker (5-foot-9, 145 pounds) should be a playmaker from his slot position on offense.
“I am looking forward to seeing how our offense moves the ball this season,” said Decker, who will play cornerback on defense. “We have some experienced players and I think we should be able to do quite a few things offensively.”
“Francis is a great athlete,” Oakridge coach Cary Harger said. “He is an impact player that will be a big part of our offense.”
Providing the blocking for Decker and an offense that returns five starters will be Murphy and Shepherd.
Murphy (6-foot-4, 211) will play center on offense and tackle on the defensive side of the ball.
“I think we will be able to move the ball on offense,” Murphy said. “But, I really like our defense and what we are going to be able to do.”
“Zack has done a ton growing up over the past three years,” Harger said. “He really has given it his all for this team.”
Shepherd (5-foot-11, 245) will play guard and tackle for the Eagles this season.
“We all have played together for two or three years on the varsity, and I think that experience will help us this season,” Shepherd said. “We need to play as a team and if we can do that then I think we can have a great season.”
“Jacob is such a coachable kid,” Harger said. “He has kind of been a utility guy for us playing several positions and never once complained.”
Decker, Murphy and Shepherd will have plenty of help on both sides of the ball this season.
Junior Dan Shoop (5-foot-10, 172), who rushed for nearly 600 yards and scored eight touchdowns last season, should be the workhorse running back for the Eagles this season.
Senior Mike Whittaker (6-1, 249) will also be a key linemen on both sides of the ball, and senior Derek Masterman (6-0, 163) will get some carries in the backfield.
Junior James Abriatis (5-foot-11, 206), a transfer from South Haven, will see playing time at fullback and linebacker while sophomore Kaleb Cook (5-foot-11, 213) will get playing time on both lines for the Eagles.
“I definitely think our experience is one of our strengths this season,” Harger said. “I really think our defense is going to be very good.”
Defense could be the key this season if Oakridge is going to contend again for the West Michigan Conference championship as Montague, Shelby and Whitehall are all expected to be in the title hunt.
Oakridge and Shelby tied for the conference championship with 6-1 records, but Montague knocked out the Eagles in the district finals.
“We definitely are looking to challenge for the West Michigan Conference title,” Harger said. “We are hungry after last season. We were three points away from being 9-0, and three plays hurt us in our playoff loss. I think the guys are using that as motivation for this year.”