July 19, 2016 9:50:03 PM
Editor's Note: Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters will share five questions each Wednesday through Aug. 17, as we count down to the start of the prep football season.
Well, it is that time of year.
Area prep football teams will be reporting next week as we move within four week of the start of the regular season for the Mississippi High School Activities Association and Mississippi Association of Independent Schools.
While we continue to prepare for meaningless first-quarter measurements, dancing mascots, heat timeouts and touchdowns, let's look ahead and tackle some more of this season's pressing questions.
1. What type of encore can we expect from Ricky Woods in his second season as coach at Starkville?
A year ago, splashes were made when Woods was brought in to coach the Starkville football program. With a state championship pedigree already established, Woods went right to work and put his stamp on his new team.
By being hired after spring ball, there was not much that could be done that was not done on the fly. Woods was still learning his players in the opening days of fall camp.
However, great coaching and great talent combined to put another historic season in the books for the Yellow Jackets with another Class 6A title.
With Jamie Mitchell first and now Woods, Starkville has had the coaching market cornered. Linebacker Willie Gay will be one of the state's best players this season.
Overall, Starkville has a high talent level again but will field a very young team.
The good news is Class 6A is wide open. With that in mind - and with Woods already firmly in place and aware of the depth of his program - there is no reason to not think Starkville has the pieces to be playing in late November or early December.
2. Which area teams will be making major strides this season?
Let's go with Caledonia.
This will be Andy Crotwell's fourth season as coach of the Confederates. In 2014, Caledonia broke close to a 10-year drought and returned to the postseason. Last year, a return to the playoffs was not in the card as the squad finished fifth in Class 4A, Region 4 play.
Now looking at this year's squad, Caledonia will have talent at the skill-making positions.
Spencer Unruh is back at quarterback. A three-year starter at that position, Unruh threw for 1,192 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. This summer, he has attended several passing camps, while growing faster and stronger.
On the ground, Zion Ford is back after running for 910 yards and eight touchdowns a season ago. Caledonia ran the ball 291 times for 1,199 yards last season and every player who carried the pigskin is back.
Senior Jamel Thomas is also poised to have a big year both as a runner and pass receiver.
Caledonia also lost only three senior starters on defense.
Overall, these are some of the reasons why Caledonia should be back in the playoffs and back above .500 after going 6-6 in 2014 and 5-5 in 2015.
3. Which opposing player will be the worth the price of admission this season?
Always one of the favorite questions to answer.
Let's go with Cam Akers at Clinton High School.
Ranked as the state's No. 1 running back prospect by 247 sports, Akers is the engine that makes the Arrows' machine go from the quarterback position.
Last season, Akers threw for 2,331 yards and ran for 1,418 yards. A favorite in Class 6A, Clinton limped to an 8-5 overall record and saw its playoffs hopes dashed with a second-round playoff loss to Starkville.
In 2015, Starkville took a 45-7 win between the region rivals in the regular season and a 45-27 win in the playoffs. Akers did not play in the first matchup but had 276 passing yards and 202 rushing yards in the second matchup.
We also remember the epic struggle in 2014 when Brady Davis out dueled Akers for a 56-46 win at Clinton.
This season, Starkville plays at Clinton on Nov. 4. There is also a good chance Columbus could get a shot at Clinton in the playoffs. A season ago, Clinton eliminated Columbus 56-42 in a first-round playoff game at Falcon Field.
4. We covered opening week last, which matchup is most intriguing for the second week on Aug. 26?
Let's go to Lowndes County for the matchup between Noxubee County and Columbus.
Columbus played arguably its worst game of the season in last year's 25-8 loss at Macon. The Falcons were undone by multiple turnovers in the red zone. Granted, Noxubee County made people look silly on defense throughout the entire season.
Looking ahead to this year's matchup, both teams will have talented but young defenses. On offense, Noxubee County will still be looking for the answers early with difficult non-region games with Starkville, Columbus and West Point on the early slate. Conversely, Columbus should have a pretty good of its offensive identity when it his the practice field for the first time.
Both teams will forces in their respective classifications. It's a good thing fans get treated to early-season matchups such as these.
5. How about another player for us to get know better?
Look for a breakthrough year for Noxubee County senior Kymbotric Mason. A 6-foot-2, 180-pound wide receiver and cornerback, Mason is beginning to pick up some Division I offers on the recruiting trail.
As a junior, Mason had 809 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. His leadership will be key as the 2015 state champion Tigers break in some new faces on the offensive side of the ball.
Scott Walters is a sports reporter for The Dispatch. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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