COLUMN: Members of one of the most successful high school programs to ever play in the area will be re-united this weekend.
Long before the Oxford Chargers played for the state championship in 2003 and Lafayette won 34 straight games as well as back-to-back Class 4A titles, the Oxford Training School Eagles dominated the football landscape.
From 1956 through the end of the 1962 regular season, the all-black Eagles won 70 straight ballgames, five conference titles and had 11 players earn All-Conference selections. Members of OTS and Central High have been coming back to share memories about the great teams and this weekend’s celebration called “Let’s Stay Together” is the latest installment.
Eric Marshall was a member of those great teams that played for the Eagles from 1958-1961. Once he graduated, without a blemish on his record as a player, he helped Michigan State reach great heights in college playing alongside future NFL standouts such as Bubba Smith. Marshall said that the Eagles liked to pass the ball, much like Ole Miss did during that time period, and the inspiration of the Rebels and head coach Johnny Vaught, was everywhere.
“We really had a great feeling as a team. We used a lot of the same formations and plays that Ole Miss did. We learned a lot from Ole Miss,” said Marshall, who credited coach Ollie Downson for his direction each week. “Coach Downson was very nice but he was a tough coach. He was primarily the reason we were so good. He demanded a lot from us.”
A rivalry game that Marshall remembers vividly involved Holly Springs’ Rosenwald, a school with players that apparently did a lot of trash talking. After hearing about how Oxford was going to lose, the Eagles found a way to earn a hard-fought 12-0 win in 1961. The Eagles defeated Corinth and played other teams from as far away as Winona and Columbus.
“We had a lot of tremendous players on the team and we played teams with good size but we had some very fast players and some players that also had some good size,” Marshall said. “We had some terrific players who went on got scholarships and some on academic scholarships as well.”
After graduating from Michigan State, Marshall served 24 years in the U.S. Army and retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Another former Eagle who never lost a game during his high school career is a familiar one. Murray Dixon, who was a 6-foot-4, 192-pound offensive and defensive tackle, finished his career 40-0 between 1958-1961.
Dixon said the game with Holly Springs was big because Downson lived there. He said the annual game with them was always close but never ended with an Eagles loss.
Dixon added he remembers big games with Patton Lane out of Batesville, a 35-14 win over Ripley and some lively games with Charleston, the only team that tried to intimidate the Eagles. Dixon said there weren’t a ton of big players on the Eagles, but a lot of fast guys and players who really loved the game because basketball and track weren’t as stressed and because Oxford was a football crazy town, much like it still is.
Following a successful college career at Mississippi Valley State, Dixon worked in the Oxford, Lafayette and Water Valley school districts. He was an assistant on another undefeated team, the 1990 Water Valley football team that won the Class 3A state title.
Memories live on
While the sport of football and the players who play it may have changed since the Eagles ran on to a field located in the River Hills section of east Oxford — an area right behind Chandler Dodge and Jeep — the joy of winning and being a unified group has not. That’s evident in the stories still told and one of the main reasons the teammates still reunite to remember the past. (September 21, 2012, Page 6A)