A high school football coach who has won eight league championships and produced a handful of NFL players typically is not responsible for carting his team’s water coolers to and from practice. He usually doesn’t serve as his team’s athletic trainer, either.
But those are some of Craig Jefferies’s responsibilities as the new coach at Oxon Hill. Jefferies, who built Dunbar into an area powerhouse from 1996 to 2010, takes over a Clipper team that won one game in 2011 (against an opponent in the midst of a 41-game losing streak) and hasn’t had a winning season since 2008. He works at a school whose campus is partly under construction, making the field and locker room unavailable for use.
Why did Jefferies, one of the most successful high school football coaches in D.C. history, end up in Prince George’s County?
Oxon Hill has “had a winning program and tradition in the past, and I thought the opportunity to restore that would be easier than other places,” said Jefferies, who left Dunbar following the 2010 season and spent last year as an assistant at the University of New Mexico. “And it was at the bottom. I wanted a change. I didn’t mind working hard to help develop the program.”
In his 15 seasons at Dunbar, Jefferies led the Crimson Tide to eight D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association titles, posted a record of 126-48-1 and was named the 1999 All-Met Coach of the Year. Oxon Hill was a Prince George’s power 30 years ago — the Clippers won the Maryland AA title in 1982, beginning a string of 11 playoff appearances in 14 seasons — but has fallen on harder times.
When he got to Oxon Hill, the reality, according to Jefferies, “was worse than I thought.”
This season his team will practice at a nearby neighborhood park and play all but one of its home games at nearby Friendly High. The team’s weight room is located in a science lab. Jefferies hasn’t been able to find a laundry room yet, so his players wash their own jerseys.
By the time the school construction is finished, however, Jefferies expects the football team to be vastly improved. Sure, this year’s Clippers have only five seniors with two or more years of football experience, and many of the players don’t know how to line up, stretch, lift weights or even run properly.
With the help of a veteran coaching staff – which consists of five former Dunbar coaches and one former Dunbar player – Jefferies expects swift improvement.
“Everything that we do in practice, it’s always fundamentals,” junior right tackle Xavier McCoy said. “It really helps me because instead of every time messing up and a coach yelling, [Jefferies] talks to you and makes sure you understand what you’re doing and that you’re doing it right. I feel safe under him coaching me, because I feel like I can take the stuff in better.”
On Saturday, Oxon Hill will open its season against Dunbar (1-0), where first-year Coach Jerron Joe is embarking on his effort to continue the momentum Jefferies built. The Crimson Tide, which won the DCIAA crown again last year, opened its season last week with a 39-0 victory over McKinley.
Jefferies coached Joe at Dunbar from 2000-04 and, as a member of the school’s hiring panel, recommended Joe take over as the Crimson Tide’s coach after last season. Joe said Jefferies’s imprint on the program clearly remains.
“He basically built Dunbar from when they was a doormat, and the main thing that I can say that he showed me was how to be organized and how to run a program,” Joe said of Jefferies. “Everything that he did was structured, on time and with lots and lots of discipline.”
That’s how it’s still done at Dunbar, and that’s how it will be done at Oxon Hill, where Jefferies took over in June. Past and present will intersect Saturday, but Jefferies insisted he will not be stricken with nostalgia.
“I think I’m going to feel more for my team,” Jefferies said. “I want to see what my team can do. What I’ve done at Dunbar is done. I wish them luck after this game, but I’m more concerned with Oxon Hill, with our guys getting better and understanding what it takes to be winners and champions.”