July 12, 2013 12:42:24 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
The last time that Noxubee County High School football coach Tyrone Shorter and Starkville High School football coach Jamie Mitchell coached in a 60,000-seat senior college football stadium, the experience was a positive one indeed.
The stakes will be much lower when the defending state champion Tigers and Yellow Jackets usher in the 2013 season by taking part in the fourth annual New Hope High School Jamboree. A total of six games will be played Aug. 17 at Davis Wade Stadium on the Mississippi State University campus in Starkville.
"With so many sophomores on our team this year, this is a big opportunity," said Shorter, who led the Tigers to a 16-0 record and the Mississippi High School Activities Association's Class 4A state championship last season. "They will be excited about playing in the big stadium. It is a great atmosphere and a great way to start the season. We will be playing a very good football team in Northwest Rankin.
"When you are as young as we are going to be, you want to be able to get in as many practice games as possible."
The schedule opens at 9 a.m. with new Caledonia coach Andy Crotwell making his debut against West Lowndes. At 11 a.m., Kosciusko meets Aberdeen. At 1 p.m., Louisville faces West Point. At 3 p.m., Noxubee County will take on Northwest Rankin. At 5 p.m., Columbus plays Grenada. In the 7 p.m. finale, new New Hope coach Shawn Gregory debuts against Starkville.
Each game will include a varsity regulation half and a junior varsity regulation quarter.
"The kids are excited and really ready to go," said Gregory, who was moved up to the head position after serving as an assistant coach in 2012. "The off-season workouts have been great. We are working hard and trying to teach them the right way to do things. After three weeks of practice, we will be ready to get some plays in against another team."
While Noxubee County will reloading, Starkville High will have a similar challenge with a bevy of new starters, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Mitchell led the Yellow Jackets to the MHSAA Class 5A state championship last season. The title defense will be an even taller task, with Starkville moving up to Class 6A.
"What it will absolutely do is see how far along our new players are in terms of understanding and playmaking," Mitchell said. "We script everything from the plays, personnel groupings, etc., in a jamboree to see how certain kids are going to respond in certain situations. You see that develop very quickly because it doesn't take you very long to see when you're playing a different team in a big stadium, who is ready to make plays for you in the upcoming season."
Coaches and players alike should be excited that the event returns to the MSU campus after being played on the New Hope campus last season, due construction at MSU. Three of the four jamborees will have now been played at Davis Wade Stadium, with the event returning after a brief one-year absence.
"Every kid on a high school teams want to play on the next level," Gregory said. "Unfortunately, it does not work out for some, but they can always say they played a game in the MSU stadium so this is a pretty big deal. The folks at MSU have been great to work with and we are pleased that the event has grown, as it has.
"This season, we play six games for the first time, so that means 12 teams are involved. It is really great that other schools also look forward to this opportunity."
Shorter lost 23 seniors off last season's team. The ability to play in a jamboree carries more significance when a team has so much newness.
"We will be evaluating more players than we normally do," Shorter said. "The entire fall practice leading up to the first game is an evaluation process. The jamboree is a lot about technique and fundamentals. We want to not make mistakes. At the same time, we want to put certain players in certain situations to see how they respond. We face Starkville in the opening game of the season, so we had better get ready quickly.
"This jamboree and the opportunity to practice against a really quality opponent can carry us a long way toward being ready for that opener."
MHSAA teams may begin practice July 29. Mitchell said the Yellow Jackets worked on many new things in spring drills. Now, the early practice sessions will be a chance to fine-tune those things before playing the season ahead.
"I think (a practice game is) so-so in terms of importance but the big thing you get out of them is you get to figure out what's going to work and what isn't," Mitchell said. "With all the new things you're working on in the spring, you get to see what your strengths and weaknesses are before you start the season."
Gregory is also anxious to see how his players respond after spring workouts.
"We have worked really hard with the fundamentals," Gregory said. "What you want to see in the early practices is the proper technique and a good attitude. The kids have been very positive and upbeat. I think the attitude is there. Now, it is a matter of doing things the right way on a consistent basis throughout the season."
Both state championship squads won their final games at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, home of Jackson State University and the high school football state championships each year. Now nine months later, the quest to get back to Jackson will begin on another college campus. Even though the game does not count, it is a big part of the process.
"The season is one long, journey," Shorter said. "It's that time of year and everybody is excited. We are ready to see what happens."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter