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Evaluations begin with spring practice at Starkville


David Miller



STARKVILLE -- This time last year, Jamie Mitchell was leading one of the top football programs in the state.  


But much like he''s shown with resurrection projects at South Tippah, Olive Branch and Itawamba Agricultural, diving into a new situation yields results.  


He expects the same at Starkville High School-- his latest project and coveted job from 10 years ago.  


Back-to-back losing seasons, low roster numbers, dwindling fan support and facilities issues fill Mitchell''s unofficial briefing in taking over Starkville''s football pogram. 


This isn''t the program it was 10 years ago. 


There''s a lot on Mitchell''s plate, but a track record of success in similar situations led incoming athletic director Dr. Stan Miller to make him the man in charge. 


One day into spring practices, Mitchell''s assessment of what the first 20 days on the job have been like was simple. 


"Chaos," Mitchell said Tuesday afternoon. 


It comes with the territory, which he''s explored thoroughly across North Mississippi since 1990 with other stops at Pontotoc and Tupelo.  


Starting over is never easy. 


"I think you can get overwhelmed at times when you think about what all has to be done," Mitchell said. "It''s like a mountain to climb. Thank goodness I''ve got a month or two here where I can concentrate solely on football.  


"That''s helped." 


The soothing element for the transition his coaching staff, family, and players have to go through is the very reason he''s in Starkville. 


The vows of community involvement and fundraising endeavors, and working toward a new field house can wait.  


He''s got a roster of 89 players he and the coaching staff have got to evaluate in just 15 days. 


The spring period is crucial in seeing how a player has grown through another offseason weight and conditioning program. Coaches already have a history of a player''s growth and ability, creating an understanding of where the players should be in their development. 


Mitchell hasn''t had time for that.  


He just sees a bunch of new faces. 


"They don''t have any idea what they''re in for," Mitchell said of his players. "They''re still trying to learn where they''re supposed to be this period, which coach has them that period, and so on. They''re real tentative and scared to mess up." 


In the routine-shock of Mitchell''s up-tempo way of running practice, he''s hoping to identify the team''s leaders by the end of the spring.  


Sure senior linebacker D.J. Jordan, Jarrod Atterberry and Jakarta Agnew are obvious seniors who are expected to start or see significant playing time. Mitchell prefers a natural way of identifying leaders. 


"I''m trying to give every kid out there the same opportunity," Mitchell said. "Certainly our coaches have identified players they feel like are our bell cows and will lead this football team. But I kind of wanted to let them get out there and show that before I sit down with seniors.  


"I want to give the some rope right now to see what they''ll do on their own. It''ll be interesting to see who steps to the front because we''re desperately seeking leaders." 


Starkville''s newest assistants -- defensive coordinator Brooks Oakley and offensive coach Preston Leathers -- have made the trek from Fulton to Starkville to help implement new schemes with the team''s returning assistants. Mitchell said the team has had three-straight, five-and-a-half hour Sunday meetings in preparation for spring practice. 


He''s been pleased with the cohesion that''s developed within the coaching staff. 


Oakley''s role is clear, while Leathers, who coached quarterbacks at Itawamba, will "float" between offensive groups. 


Mitchell said he''s unsure if last year''s offensive coordinator, Rob Morgan, or Leathers will call plays. 


"It''s good to have a guy you could move around a little bit, but for the fall I''m not sure," Mitchell said. "I can use him in several different areas. We''ll go through the spring and see where things shake out." 


By the end of the spring, Mitchell wants his roster to be set more so that who''ll call offensive plays to be determined. And in the vein of competition, players are expected to switch positions, Mitchell said.  


"That''s saying a lot because there''s going to be a lot of moving and shaking until we find a place for them," Mitchell said. "It''s going to be an everyday thing." 




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