May 5, 2010 11:02:00 AM
David Miller -
STARKVILLE -- The football building blocks are being laid at Starkville Academy.
Jeff Terrill''s return to the prep ranks for the first time since 1993 brought him to a rebuilding project that has a dubious number hanging over the last two seasons.
Fifteen straight losses and a winless 2009 campaign did more than evoke a coaching change -- players defected.
Molding positive attitudes toward the game is a coaching characteristic Terrill believes has engineered a decorated career in prep and junior college competition in Mississippi.
At his introduction in December, Terrill spoke in detail about changing the program''s attitude and culture.
One week into spring practice, the former Itawamba Community College coach is singing the same song.
"The biggest battle cry at Starkville Academy is just getting the kids to believe in themselves," Terrill said. "Getting the alumni and parents and friends excited again, rallying the wagons and pushing forward. The best way I explained to the kids, I brought a white board in there, and left it empty. The point was ''Don''t worry about what''s happened. What we do from now goes on this board."
Terrill''s players, if for lack of any direction but up or any idea that''s new, have witnessed it first hand -- they had to do some recruiting this offseason.
"We have some new people who''ve never played football before, thinking it''s going to be fun and a good year," Starkville Academy senior wide receiver Adam Crittenden said. "In the past, we were just trying to keep people on the team. A lot of people''s spirits were down because we didn''t win a game last year."
With each loss, quarterback Kyle Henson could see the life drain out of the team. The dissentient atmosphere and lopsided losses ran off some players and this year''s 30-man spring roster -- small for a Class AAA club -- isn''t surprising to Henson.
"Not after what happened last year," Henson said. "People last year were looking forward to the game being over and you can''t win like that. We''re trying to change the mindset and people this year -- I''ve already seen it -- wanting to come out here and do the best they can. A lot of that has to do with coach Terrill."
The common ground of winning games makes the pitch a little easier, at least to the returning players, Terrill said. Wins will draw more kids to the field, too, though Terrill has to mold the 30-plus he has to work with this spring.
New systems, new philosophies, new positions -- everything for now will be fresh for Starkville Academy''s players.
Under center, there''s two new faces and one that saw time at quarterback in last year''s gamut.
Henson took over for Will Goodwin last season when the latter tore a knee ligament midway though the year. The spread offense then changed to fit Henson''s running ability, an adjustment he believes gives him a leg up over Drew Pellum and Harrison McBride in learning what he calls "a more detailed" option offense.
But with a thin roster Henson isn''t concerned with two of the three quarterback candidates losing confidence over not being under center.
"We''re all going to work as hard as we can to get the spot," Henson said. "We''re all trying to out-do each other, but each of us understands that we''re going to have another spot -- running back or wherever they''re going to put you.
"Quarterbacks are going to know what everyone''s doing anyway."
Terrill''s been pleased with all three so far.
"Everyone is going to have a shot, and there''s something to like about all three of them," Terrill said. "Kyle''s got experience, but Drew is a junior and looked good on Day 1. So has Harrison. Those three have a lot of terminology they''re having to learn and I like the way they''ve approached it. This team has to become tougher mentally and physically."
Terrill, including himself, will have a three-man staff in his first season at Starkville Academy. Chad Crowe returns to coach the offensive line and Chase Nicholson is back to coach quarterbacks, wideouts and defensive backs.
New to the staff is Starkville Academy graduate Chad Peterson, who is aiding in varsity training this spring and will be the head coach for the eighth and ninth grade programs.
Terrill said he''d like to have more coaches, but with just 30 players on the roster the current staff will manage fine.
Besides, the players want to learn.
"They have been resilient and accepted the challenge well, especially based on what they went through last year," Terrill said. "I''m enjoying being able to coach this age group again and I like how the enthusiasm is growing."
n NOTES: Starkville Academy will not play a spring game against another opponent, but will have an intrasquad scrimmage at 6 p.m. May 20.