August 16, 2012 10:26:25 PM
STARKVILLE -- Normally coaches are concerned about their players letting the emotion of a pre-game moment take away from their concentration on the field.
Starkville High School football coach Jamie Mitchell doesn't have that fear tonight as his team will begin its 2012 football season by honoring a member of their football family that tragically isn't with them any longer.
On New Year's Day morning, SHS junior athlete Devin Mitchell was tragically murdered to the shock of his family, community, teammates and coaches. Before the 7:30 p.m. kickoff, Mitchell will be honored by having his jersey retired at Yellow Jackets Stadium in a ceremony that will have his parents, friends and family in attendance as SHS hosts Noxubee County to start another football season.
"We want to keep Devin and the family certainly in the forefront of our memories and this is a way for us to do that all season long," Coach Mitchell said. "We'll do the best we can to play the game in his honor of course but even so, some things are more important than football."
Mitchell was set to be a star receiver in his final season as a member of the Class 5A state runner-up and a team that is still expected to make a run back to Jackson without his services. On the field, Mitchell led Starkville with 34 catches for 772 yards and 10 touchdowns. Off the field, he is a young person and teammate that is already being missed out on the practice field as the Yellow Jackets began preparations to defend its 2011 region title.
"It's a day-to-day thing with our guys because sometimes they want to talk about it and sometimes you go a couple days without mentioning it," Coach Mitchell said. "As coaches we try to make sure voice anything they're feeling. None of us have a road map for handling a tragedy like this."
Members of the Mitchell family have been welcomed and seen repeatedly at preseason practice this month with his Devin's mother speaking to the team after a two-a-day workout. It was Mitchell's mother that requested Devin's teammates wear their black SHS football jerseys to the Jan. 8 funeral for her son and eight months later Devin's jersey, No. 32, will be honored.
"We want to do this the right way because he was such a great young man and a part of our team that we're going to have this be a special night for his family," Coach Mitchell said. "We definitely are going to show everybody that Devin Mitchell is still a member of our Starkville High School family on and off the field."
Once the SHS players take the field, they'll be staring across from a team that is expected to challenge for the Class 4A state championship in Noxubee County. Tigers head coach Tyrone Shorter has the leading passer and rusher back from an explosive offense that produced a 10-3 record. Noxubee County was able to surprise Starkville in a 33-20 home victory that showcased 318 yards rushing.
"We'll have our hands full with one of the best teams in the state of Mississippi," Coach Mitchell said. "We went 2-2 to start last season and it seems like every year before region play we get some things answered about our football team."
The SHS coach is 1-4 in his career against Noxubee County, dating back to his days at Itawamba Agricultural High School.
Noxubee County will have senior quarterback DeAngelo Ballard taking snaps from center after he looks to have a much healthier 2012 season following a broken leg ruined what was a promising start to his junior campaign.
Noxubee County didn't put any points on the scoreboard in a scrimmage last weekend while facing Columbus High in the New Hope High School Jamboree but Shorter said it was a designed effort to not show any scouting material to the Yellow Jackets program.
"Offensively, we didn't want to show Starkville a whole lot, but I thought our offensive line did a good job at times in pass protection," Shorter said Saturday.
With the loss of playmaker Terrance Barron to graduation as he continues his football career at East Mississippi Community College, the Tigers are trying to find young athletes on the outside that Barron can get the football to.
"I think we have a lot of work to do with our receivers," Shorter said Saturday. "We have some young receivers, and we have a lot of work to do with them. I am not pleased with the receiving group right now."
At halftime of this contest, Starkville High will recognize the members of the school's Class 5A state championship boys soccer team.
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