February 15, 2014 11:26:12 PM
STARKVILLE -- Jamison McKee was only trying to make an impression.
The more then Starkville Academy boys soccer coach Robert Gardner watched McKee train and accept his coaching he realized he was going to have to make a difficult decision.
More than three years later, McKee and Gardner were together again Friday at Starkville Academy to talk about how events from the 2010-11 season played a role in McKee's opportunity to sign a National Letter of Intent to play soccer at Meridian Community College.
"You can always get better," McKee said. "When I was a freshman, coach Robert Gardner came and I didn't play very much, but by the fourth game after all he did I started. I played after that, and that is what really got me going. It showed me I could get better with practice."
McKee had no way of realizing as a freshman how he had affected the course of his next three years. The chance to play on the varsity team as a freshman motivated him to work at his game, to train, and to go harder than his peers so he could realize a dream he had ever since he started playing soccer.
Gardner, who coached McKee for three years at Starkville Academy, was more than happy to be back at the school to take part in McKee's signing ceremony. McKee signed the NLI to attend MCC on Feb. 7 in Meridian.
"He was one of the more coachable players we had on that team," Gardner said. "The graduating class from the year before was a very talented group and we were really searching for an identity. Part of our identity with that team became our willingness to work and experiment to see where our success would come. We brought Jamison in halfway through the year and I am not sure he missed a start the rest of his freshman year."
Gardner is coaching with the Premier Development League Mississippi Brilla Football Club based in Clinton. He also is coaching an Under-15 boys team in the Clinton Soccer Association. He said McKee's attitude and his coachability forced him to make a decision to play a freshman over an upperclassmen that he said rewarded him ten-fold).
"I really got to appreciate working with him and his attitude and his character," Gardner said. "It is everything you would want in a player, so I wish him the very best at Meridian."
Starkville Academy coach Cole Andrews has watched this school year as McKee has continued to work hard. He said McKee served as a manager for the girls soccer team and used the time to hone his touch, to shoot, and to train for the winter season.
"When the girls were out there in July he was out there practicing by himself, so I think that kind of speaks for itself," Andrews said. "He is always trying to be the very best he can be and putting in the extra work when no one else wants to work. He is the kind of guy who is going to be the first one there and the last one to leave.
"He is an excellent leader. He was a leader on and off the field. He took care of business off the field so he didn't bring any unwanted attention onto himself, which I always commend, and he played hard. Every game, all 80 minutes, it was 100 percent. It is something to be proud of, and it was an honor to coach him."
Andrews smiled when asked if he ever had to tell McKee to leave the field or threaten to shut off the lights because he was spending so much time at the field. He joked he had to tell McKee to stop kicking balls because they were going to lose too many or that he was tired to get McKee to relent and stop for the day.
"He really breathes the sport, so it means a lot to him," Andrews said. "I am really happy he will get to keep playing."
McKee said his goal is to play soccer at a four-year school. He said he likes the fact MCC doesn't have a football team and is focused more on soccer. He feels that environment will be a perfect fit for him..
"(Signing the scholarship) felt awesome because I know all that hard work paid off," McKee said. "I have been wanting to do it since I was a freshman, so it is a dream come true."
NOTE: Pillow Academy defeated Starkville Academy 1-0 in overtime Friday to end the Volunteers' season. As a result, Heritage Academy earned a spot in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, Division I playoffs. Jackson Prep will play host to Heritage Academy at 3 p.m. Monday.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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