October 16, 2009 9:00:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- No one can convince Starkville High School senior linebacker Craig Armstead the offseason doesn''t make a difference.
It wasn''t always that way.
Starkville High''s coaches pushed Armstead to get better, but he wasn''t always open to their suggestions.
Frustrated he wasn''t getting the playing time he wanted, Armstead decided to do something about it. He dedicated himself to football in January and he has become the strong arm of the Starkville High defense.
"My attitude, my worth ethic, and determination have changed," said Armstead, who will lead Starkville against Southaven at 7 tonight.
"Craig is a prime example of how hard work in the offseason can pay off," Starkville linebacker coach Tate Fischer said. "He bought into what we needed him to do to get better and his performance on the field is showing it."
The coaches observed as Armstead hit the weights and grew stronger and faster in the summer.
After having a good showing at a combine in Tupelo in the summer, Starkville High coach Bill Lee and defensive coordinator Cleveland Hudson believed Armstead had the potential to be special.
Armstead, who leads the team with 92 tackles, has been a well-kept secret for Starkville High this season. He has yet to be recruited, but Lee expects that will change.
"They''ll probably start now that they''ve seen him perform," Lee said. "He''s a great tackler and runs to the ball well. He seems to have a knack for it."
Armstead has had double-digit tackles in every game this season, including a season-high 17 against West Point High on Sept. 11.
"He''s stepped it up in his senior year," Hudson said. "That''s the things we kind of expect out of our seniors. He has played that role well as far as our leader. He is our quarterback on defense and calls all of our defensive plays. He reads the offenses and has done a great job at it."
Armstead doesn''t mind being looked upon as a leader, but stresses "we''re all one." He hopes to be more vocal on the field to keep the Yellow Jackets focused.
Now that Starkville (3-4, 3-0 Class 6A, Region 1, District 2) has won three consecutive games and is on the brink of a playoff berth, Armstead doesn''t want his teammates to slack off.
"We have to keep our intensity high," Armstead said. "We''re tied for first in the district and we''re winning the games that matter now."
Armstead doesn''t believe the Yellow Jackets have arrived defensively and knows there always is room for improvement.
"There are some key mistakes that come along that hurt us," Armstead said. "Sometimes a team gets a first down on us when we could be off the field. We come back and watch film to see what our mistakes are. After we watch film, we progress working on our mistakes."
Hudson likes the way the defense has progressed.
After starting the season with young players in tough situations, the defense is responding.
"They never did lose faith and kept working hard," Hudson said. "They worked on the basic things of tackling and taking the right angles. Each week they''ve improved and gotten better."