WEST POINT — Ash Cullum feels like a different player.
Prior to the 2018 season, the Oak Hill Academy senior knew he had a lot to learn as he transitioned into the role as the starting quarterback on the school’s football team. Cullum had taken plenty of snaps in practice, but he hadn’t seen extended varsity playing time at the position, so he knew he was going to have to make an adjustment.
A three-game losing streak after wins in the first two games helped Cullum to see more work needed to be done to help him play the position like he knew he could.
“At the beginning of the season, I wasn’t slacking, but I wasn’t doing as well as I wanted to,” Cullum said. “As the season has progressed, I have just gotten better and better at it and kept working and working and finally everything is coming together.”
Cullum hopes the timing is perfect to help Oak Hill Academy extend its season. Last week, Cullum threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score in a 24-18 victory against Marshall Academy in West Point.
For his accomplishments, Cullum is The Dispatch’s Prep Player of the Week.
“The line is blocking and everybody is getting in football form,” Cullum said. “Everybody is finally coming together and knowing what to do.”
Cullum said improved footwork and maturity have been the two keys to his development. He said he a better understanding of how important timing is to the Raiders’ offense. Early in the season, Cullum said his feet weren’t set when he threw the football. As a result, he wasn’t “on time” and wasn’t as accurate as he wanted to be. Cullum said better footwork has enabled him to get the ball out on three-step drops to kick things moving quickly.
“A lot of it came from experience and watching and listening to coach Craven and previous quarterback Buddy Dill (who is helping as a coach),” Cullum said. “He is a fanatic about footwork. He had amazing footwork. I have just started to listen to coach Craven a little bit more and pay attention to what he is saying instead of just going out there and trying it.”
Teammate Grayson Easterling kicked a 50-yard field goal and was instrumental in helping the Raiders win the battle of field position in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Oak Hill Academy (5-5) hopes to use the momentum in gained from the victory at 7 p.m. Friday when it travels to Florida to take on Tri-County Academy in the first round of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AA playoffs. Oak Hill Academy finished fourth in District 1 behind Winona Christian School, Carroll Academy, and Central Holmes Christian and earned the No. 11 seed based on power points in the 16-team playoff field. Tri-County Academy finished second to Madison St. Joseph Catholic School in District 2. It earned a No. 6 seed. The winner will advance to take on the winner of the game between No. 3 seed Sylva-Bay Academy and No. 14 seed Newton Academy at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2.
Last season, Tri-County Academy beat Oak Hill Academy 33-13 in the first round of the playoffs. In 2015, Tri-County Academy defeated Oak Hill Academy 42-14 in the first round of the playoffs.
Oak Hill Academy coach Chris Craven said experience is one of the greatest teachers. He said that has been the case with Cullum, who is in his first season as the team’s starting quarterback. He acknowledged Cullum suffered through some growing pains early in the season, but he said he is proud of him for staying focused, listening to the coaches, and working hard to address areas he needed to improve in.
“He has matured some,” said Craven, who is the team’s offensive coordinator. “He definitely is more mature now than when he started. If you’re going to be the commander in charge of the offense and lead your peers, you have to step up to the plate.”
Craven said Cullum has done that by being more disciplined. He said it has been a “gradual process” as Cullum has studied film and worked on his footwork. Craven said the repetitions have helped the left-handed Cullum to grow more comfortable in an offense that does runs out of a variety of looks and uses read-pass options and pass-pass options to maximize its potential.
Against Marshall Academy, Cullum had two touchdown passes to Collin Coggins to help close the regular season in style on Senior Night.
“Friday night was a game-of-the-week thing, and it was his best game by far,” Craven said. “He was calm and ran a lot of option and triple options and read football and made good reads and made good passes. He was throwing the ball well and looked like a quarterback and a doggone leader.
“I am very proud of him and his effort. Friday night was Senior Night, and he played like a senior quarterback for us and he did really, really good.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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