Count Melinda Jones on the long list of Oakland fans that are planning to travel Friday night to the Patriots’ Class 6A state semifinal at Maryville.
“Oakland has always been a part of my life,” said Jones, who lives in Chattanooga.
Same goes for the Puckett family — C.J. is a running back and outside linebacker on the team.
As Oakland football continues to win, win, win, this group of fans and others in Rutherford County and beyond continue to revel in all things Patriots.
Even from a distance.
Please forgive Alan Farley for missing this one. He’s in Florida this week for the Daytona Beach Invitational — Middle Tennessee State University’s is playing in the women's basketball tournament. Still, Farley plans to follow Oakland's playoff game on the radio. He’ll watch online if he can find a stream.
After all, the Patriots, led by coach Kevin Creasy, running back Jordan James, a 6A Mr. Football finalist, defensive stopper Theron Gaines and others, are two wins away from repeating as state champions for the first time since 1989-90. Along the way, alumni, including former lettermen, their parents, graduates of other Rutherford County schools and local supporters with no ties to the Patriots other than their love for the red, white and blue continue to build a camaraderie in the stands.
“The atmosphere that coach Creasy has created makes it even more fun,” said Farley, who graduated from Oakland High in the 1980s with Jones.
“Melinda makes it even more fun. We can be up by two touchdowns and she’ll be a nervous wreck in terms of always waiting for that other shoe to drop.”
Then Farley reminds her: That hasn’t happened around these parts since 2015.
The Patriots reached a state championship game in 2016 and two years later, won it all, only to do so again in 2020. And now, they're on the doorstep of another run to state.
Oakland also won state titles in 1984, 1998 and 2008.
Oakland games have morphed into more than sports contests. They're also a place for community supporters and alumni to reconnect. Former students like Oakland graduate Arthur Escueta, who moved from the area, working in several states, only to return to Tennessee and settle in Nashville. This season, he reconnected with Jones and other fans.
"I enjoy watching these kids go through the ranks of college, and then some pursue it to the pros," Escueta said. "It's fun to watch these kids progress in their careers.
Patriots fandom might start at a young age, but it certainly doesn't end there.
When Oakland played Lipscomb Academy on Sept. 23, Escueta reached out to Jones, his former classmate.
"I was like, 'Hey, if you're going, I'll be there; let's make a point to reconnect,'" Escueta said he told Jones. "'Save me a seat.'"
Some Oakland fans support the Patriots with cheers. Others with tacos and rice.
Nachos Mexican Restaurant in Murfreesboro is one of several community members and businesses that have supported the program through donations. Earlier this month, the eatery provided a team dinner for the Patriots.
We had an awesome Team Dinner last night! A big thank you to Nachos who is ALWAYS a Patriot favorite and to Brock Lillis for taking the time to come talk to our ⭕️boys! pic.twitter.com/6t9a6LoTeV
— Oakland Endzone Club (@OHS_OEC) November 19, 2021
As an Oakland student, Jones had aspirations of becoming a sports reporter. This 1984 alum was the sports editor of the school yearbook and an award-winning freelance reporter for various newspapers.
Her father, Mike, a big-time Oakland football fan, persuaded her to pursue nursing. Still, her love for sports continued, including Oakland football. And now, she’s passing on her love, her fandom, to her grandson, Noah, a 15-year-old aspiring sports reporter.
Kerod Mcferrin is a 2009 graduate of Oakland High and C.J. Puckett's uncle.
"I love to see him grow from the little kid (I knew) to this monster in the backfield," Mcferrin said. "And he's just a junior. I can’t wait until his senior year."
Escueta will miss Friday's state semifinal, but he's already making plans to attend the Class 6A state title game.
He expects the Patriots to meet him there.
Story idea? News tip? Question about a story? Gary Estwick can be reached at 931-245-0282. He also can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @garyestwick.
This article originally appeared on Murfreesboro Daily News Journal: Fandom for Oakland High football runs deep in Murfreesboro, Tennessee