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Experienced Starkville Academy squad set for season opener


Adam Minichino



STARKVILLE -- Some things aren't meant to be. 


As much as Chase Nicholson would have loved to have played Noxapater on Friday in a scrimmage, he knows it is foolish to fight Mother Nature. Even after moving the scheduled event from Noxapater to Starkville Academy, rain worked against the schools and forced them to cancel the preseason event. 


The decision would have had a bigger impact on the 2016 Starkville Academy football team. This season, though, Nicholson has at least six starters returning on both sides of the football as part of a 40-player roster that is one of the deepest in his time with the program. 


Nicholson and Starkville Academy will put that experience to the test at 7 p.m. Friday when they play host to Lamar School in the season opener for both teams. 


Starkville Academy is coming off an 8-4 season and a loss to Adams County Christian in the second round of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA playoffs. 


Nicholson will look to a talented group of seniors, which is led by Noah Methvin, Noah Smith, and William Wolfe, to set the tone in his third season as head coach. 


"Those three realize we're the only three sophomores and we have a starting role on the team," Nicholson said, referring to the things that allowed his current leaders and captains to play bigger roles two years ago. "I think the guys behind them looked at it and said, 'They did everything right and did what they were supposed to do and they were thrown into it quickly and suddenly.' Everybody realizes there is always a chance, so when you have a role you want to own that role." 


Nicholson said this might be the first season Starkville Academy hasn't played a scrimmage or in a jamboree to help work out the kinks prior to the first regular-season game. He said the Volunteers worked out Friday and then turned their focus to game week and preparations for Lamar School. Those thoughts involved a staple of Nicholson's blueprint: Get better every day. As much as it might sound cliche, Nicholson said the program has relied on that blue-collar approach and contributions from every player to win 29 games the last three seasons. Nicholson feels the leadership on this year's team will give the Volunteers a chance to keep up that pace. 


"This is all they know. They didn't know coach (Jeff) Terrill," Nicholson said, referring to the former head coach who led Starkville Academy to the state championship game in his final season in 2014. "This is all they know is we're supposed to get better every day. You do want them to take ownership of that. You want them to understand that and pass it down. What I like about this group is you see more of them coaching each other." 


Nicholson said the Volunteers aren't relying only on seniors to hold players accountable. Instead, he said sophomores and juniors are taking a vocal role in making sure everyone is doing their best to get better every day. Nicholson feels that mind-set has trickled down from previous leaders to the current group. He said those players realize an injury can thrust a backup into a starting role, so everyone has to be ready to contribute. 


"You're only as good as your leaders," Nicholson said. "I am not the only leader in the coaching staff. We have a great group of coaches, so everybody doesn't look at me as the leader. We lead, and they follow that idea." 


Nicholson said the "we're in this thing together" extends to the offense, where Methvin and senior Ben Owens, a transfer from Starkville High School, will see time at quarterback. Smith is part of a group of as many as six that likely will see time at running back. 


The Volunteers have similar depth on defense, where seniors Will Holley, Zach Barnes, and Kyle Faver will look to play key roles with classmates Reagan and Brady Richardson and Garrett Smith. 


"We're in a really good place," Nicholson said. "We have a really good group of guys and big numbers, but Week 1 is Week 1. We have to go out and win Week 1 before we can win Week 2. 


"I want to keep pushing to get better. ... I don't ever want them to be comfortable or satisfied, but I want us all to know we're going in the right direction. ... With all of the coaches and great leadership we have coming back -- not just the original three seniors (Methvin, Smith, and Wolfe), but all of the ones who came back as juniors -- everybody knows where we want to go and what it is going to take to get there." 


Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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