November 28, 2012 9:45:15 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
JACKSON -- Jamie Mitchell believes adversity can be a positive.
That's a philosophy the Starkville High School football coach has had to espouse over and over and over again this season.
It's a credit to Mitchell and his coaches that the Yellow Jackets have been able to withstand a multitude of injuries and the loss of four offensive starters from the 2011 state runner-up team and fight to earn a return trip to Jackson.
"We are really big on adversity makes you better," Mitchell said.
Starkville (11-3) will try to take the next step at 7 p.m. Saturday when it takes on Pascagoula in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A State title game at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson. Last season, Starkville lost to Picayune 38-21.
This season, Starkville will take the field with the motivation it will play for teammate Devin Mitchell, who was killed New Year's Day. The Yellow Jackets also will have the support of teammates Jimmy Saulsberry (wide receiver, anterior cruciate ligament), Kirk Kinard (offensive tackle, shoulder), receiver Ladorious Pittman (wide receiver, ankle).
Factor in that senior lineman David Fair Jr. is playing with a torn anterior, senior quarterback Gabe Myles missed two games early in the season with an ankle injury, and senior running back Preston Baker also missed time due to injury and it is even more impressive that the Yellow Jackets have been able to go "Next man up" each time and have another player contribute.
"Coaches will say, 'I don't know who could have had it any worse, but I would like you to find a team that lost four offensive starters, has their best defensive player on a torn ACL that were able to overcome that," Mitchell said. "I give all of the credit in the world to the kids. They refused to let that be an excuse. We were able to move some kids around and they got comfortable in what we were asking them to do. They just have been on a mission to get back here (to Jackson)."
Mitchell praised his players for not falling into the trap of using the injuries as an excuse. He said the coaches harped on the players that hard times make tough people. He feels the Yellow Jackets never doubted that mind-set and that they only needed for things to settle down and players to start to return from injuries for the team to find its stride.
With 23 seniors, Mitchell said leadership has helped Starkville earn a date in the state title for the second season in a row.
Fair Jr. had to convince his father to let him play after he suffered his third knee injury in the second game of the season. He points to the squad's faith and togetherness enabled it to come through the adversity.
"I think it has made us a better team," Fair Jr. said of the adversity. "It made us stronger and know everything we can do. When you know everything that can go bad, it is not too hard to find out what can happen good."
Myles, who has made a verbal commitment to play football at Mississippi State University, said the team's belief in itself has been the foundation that didn't waver following a
1-3 start to the season.
"When you have encouragement from inside the camp, it is going to show it doesn't matter what you go through, you have some guys who are going to stick in there with you and it is not that hard to overcome," Myles said. "The first four games, yeah, they were bad, but we played quality opponents. ... At the same time, we knew these games weren't going to stop us from getting to the playoffs, or getting to Jackson. It was kind of like, OK, now we see where we are, we have to get better, and get to Jackson."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.