Tony Stanford moves to Oak Hill Academy after spending the past four seasons as head coach at Columbus High School. Photo by: David Miller/Special to The Dispatch
June 25, 2014 12:12:02 PM
For most of his adult life, Tony Stanford has coached high school football.
He is still excited about the next opportunity to do just that.
Earlier this week, the former Columbus High School coach agreed to coach Oak Hill Academy. Stanford replaces Daniel Merchant, who resigned earlier this month after two seasons to pursue other professional opportunities.
"I knew they had an opening, put in an application and completed the interview process," Stanford said. "I was really thrilled they gave me this opportunity. Coaching football is what I do and I am really looking forward to getting started."
Stanford spent six seasons at Columbus, including the past four as head coach. Under his watch, the Falcons were 22-23. In 2012, Columbus made the playoffs, falling to Madison Central in a first-round Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A contest. For Columbus, it was the school's first football playoff appearance since 2005. This past season, Columbus regressed to a 4-7 mark, including a 2-5 record in MHSAA Region 2-6A play.
"After 38 years of coaching you know when it is time to move on," said Stanford, when confirming his resignation at Columbus in December.
Stanford also knows the right place to land.
Inheriting a winless squad in 2011, Merchant made believers in Clay County rather quickly. The Raiders finished 6-6 in 2012 and 5-6 in 2013, suffering first-round Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AA playoff losses each season. Oak Hill Academy had last made the playoffs in 2007.
"They have a really great group of athletes coming back and that is what really excited me about the job," Stanford said. "Football is really on the upswing out there. Coach Merchant did a great job of building things up. You can tell the community is excited again and there is a passion for the football program out there."
Stanford is looking forward to meeting his new players and hitting the ground running. The veteran coach's career is most often highlighted by a 15-year stint at Louisville High School, including eight as head coach.
"Next week is a dead week," Stanford said. "After that, we will come in there the following Monday and really get things started. I am looking forward to being around the players and putting together our plan for the upcoming season. We are going to attack this hard and really try to continue what has happened the last couple of years."
Oak Hill Academy will return senior running back Drake Riley and junior running back Drew Riley. The duo ran for 1,526 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Senior Riley Pierce and sophomore Ken Dill will also be back at quarterback.
The Raiders open the 2014 season Aug. 22 at Hartfield Academy.
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter