October 13, 2009 10:45:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Jaquez Johnson knew the Starkville High School football team''s first four games this season were going to be a challenge.
Johnson never imagined, though, that he and the Yellow Jackets would be as frustrated as they were after losses to Noxubee County, Louisville, Meridian, and West Point.
But as much as Johnson wanted to doubt himself after the losses, he had to realize losses to three teams that won state titles in 2008 and another to a team that is expected to challenge for a championship this season were only going to make him and his teammates better.
That time is now for Johnson and the Yellow Jackets.
The junior quarterback threw three touchdowns and ran for another last Friday in a 34-6 victory against Horn Lake. The win was the third in a row for Starkville (3-4, 3-0 Class 6A, Region 1, District 2) and has the Yellow Jackets on the brink of clinching a playoff berth.
For his accomplishments, Johnson is The Commercial Dispatch Prep Player of the Week.
"At the beginning of the season I was trying not to make mistakes coming off a 14-pick (interception) season last year," Johnson said. "Now I am looser and trying to make plays instead of getting so caught up in trying not to throw interceptions."
The 6-foot-1, 212-pound right-hander was 12 of 20 for 276 yards last week. He fired touchdown passes of 76 and 33 yards to Justin Rogers and 14 yards to Brandon Johnson in the second quarter. He added a 3-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to help the Yellow Jackets keep rolling.
Johnson also leads the Yellow Jackets in rushing attempts (93 for 144 yards). Starkville High coach Bill Lee said Johnson''s running ability is just one facet to an improving set of skills. He said Johnson showed last Friday he is improving on his reads and is deciding faster to check off one route in favor of another one.
"Through repetition, we''re starting to hit some of those balls we were missing earlier in the season," Lee said. "In high school, it is tough to make more than three progressions and get that kind of time, but he is doing the first two as good as I have seen in a long time. I won''t say he is the best, but he is right up there among the best. If he does that, we''re going to have some more success this year."
Johnson has completed 52 percent of his passes (83 of 160) this season for 1,057 yards. He has six touchdowns and four interceptions. He also has rushed for three more touchdowns.
"You tell Jaquez something, he is going to get it done," Lee said. "Like that comic says, the best two words in America, you tell Jaquez something he is going to ''getter done.'' "
Lee also said Johnson has emerged as a better leader. He said Johnson is learning not to be so hard on himself after mistakes and the result has been evident on the field.
Johnson said he felt like all of the hard work he and his teammates invested in the offseason was going to waste after the first four losses. He knew he had to continue to lead by example in practice, but he admitted it was tough and that there were times he got down on himself.
Something clicked, though, in the past week that has helped the Yellow Jackets get back on the same page.
"I think our confidence built up," Johnson said. "I was trying to tell my teammates the teams we played are not like the ones everyone else was playing. Everybody was saying we were sorry because we weren''t winning any games, but we played three of the five state champions (Meridian, Class 5A; Noxubee County, Class 4A; Louisville, Class 3A) and we had some bright spots. We can see now that we have improved."
Johnson credits his teammates for helping him stay positive. He said he has to remind himself to shake a bad play off and re-focus to move on to the next play.
That attitude worked last Friday, and Johnson hopes he will be able to continue to put things together and fine-tune his technique to lead the Yellow Jackets back to the playoffs.
"The little things are the things that help you win games, and that is what I am trying to focus on," Johnson said. "I am trying to follow through and not to fall off my throw. I also am trying to step toward my target."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.