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First games will answer questions about prep teams

 

West Point High School running back Nate Montgomery keeps his eye on a Tupelo defender as he runs by another one in his team’s 13-0 victory Saturday in the New Hope Jamboree at Mississippi State’s Davis Wade Stadium.

West Point High School running back Nate Montgomery keeps his eye on a Tupelo defender as he runs by another one in his team’s 13-0 victory Saturday in the New Hope Jamboree at Mississippi State’s Davis Wade Stadium. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch  Buy this photo.

 

Scott Walters

 

 

We have finally arrived at the opening weekend for football teams in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) and Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS). 

 

In the past month, we have spent a lot of time looking at some of the key questions entering the season. Each year, several expected things come to fruition. We also always have some unexpected twists and turns as we head to state championship weekend in Oxford for the public schools and Clinton for the private schools. 

 

While we kill the final couple of hours before kickoff, let's look at one final set of questions. 

 

Will West Point have a competitive game this season? 

 

All the preseason hype has surrounded West Point -- and for good reason. 

 

The Green Wave will start somewhere between 14 and 16 returnees Thursday night for its season opener against Columbus in West Point. A year ago, West Point won its final 13 games to capture the MHSAA Class 5A State championship. 

 

Quarterback/running back/safety Marcus Murphy is one of a handful of favorites for the state's player of the year honor. A healthy Chris Calvert will run alongside Murphy. The offensive line is deep in talent and size. 

 

Defensively, West Point looks the part. The Green Wave started almost all juniors a year ago. The communication issues from early last season won't be a part of this season. 

 

As always, the non-region schedule will be far more challenging than the Class 5A, Region 1 slate. 

 

Starkville and Noxubee County have a chance to play a competitive game with West Point. Competitive games won't be on the horizon in October or early November. 

 

Can Starkville go from missing the Class 6A playoffs to winning a state championship? 

 

If preseason publications are any indication, the answer is no. 

 

Starkville was shut out of The Clarion-Ledger Super 10 two seasons after being the state's top-ranked team for most of the season. 

 

In 2016, Starkville finished 7-4 and missed the Class 6A playoffs. The Yellow Jackets were excellent on defense but had few answers on offense. There was only so much Willie Gay could do on that side of the ball. 

 

This season, the attitude is different. A year ago, Starkville played tight and didn't handle adversity. This year, the team is excited about playing the sport again. One could sense a different vibe on the sidelines at the New Hope Jamboree. 

 

With no disrespect to Ricky Woods, Starkville's next hire needed to be young and energetic. That is what Chris Jones has brought to the table. 

 

This season's Starkville senior class hasn't held back when discussing the attitude of last season's team. The Yellow Jackets needed more changes mentally than physically. 

 

We don't know the final number, but it's a safe bet Starkville will make the final rankings. 

 

Is Noxubee County still a year away or is this the year? 

 

A run to the Class 4A state championship wouldn't be surprising for Tyrone Shorter's club. The Tigers won state titles in 2014 and 2015 before winning nine games last season. 

 

Noxubee County showed flashes of greatness in a victory against Class 6A Callaway at the New Hope Jamboree. The Tigers held a couple of key players out of action but still played well offensively. The played well defensively aside from a few missed assignments. 

 

It is still a young club, so 2018 could be better than 2017. 

 

However, don't sell this season's team short. Noxubee County has a nice array of weapons and a veteran coaching staff. There will be a few changes, but Noxubee County wins a lot of games based on tradition. 

 

Early games against Starkville, Columbus, Meridian, and West Point will tell us a lot. Once region play begins, Noxubee County should again go to the next level. 

 

What did we learn from preseason interviews? 

 

Starkville Academy will dress 40 players. More depth means more players going both ways. That's a good thing for the Volunteers. 

 

West Lowndes will dress 35 players. Some transfers will help on the offensive line. More depth also is a huge advantage in MHSAA Class 1A play. 

 

Columbus players remain optimistic to be young in so many areas. 

 

Starkville players like their new coach. 

 

West Point players like winning state championships. 

 

Noxubee County players feel now is the time. 

 

New Hope players like returning to Class 4A. 

 

Have you found the binoculars yet? 

 

Legal pads, pens, tape recorder, and rosters are ready for Thursday night. 

 

The binocular issue has solved itself after the purchase of a new one. 

 

Let the games begin. 

 

Scott Walters is a sports writer for The Dispatch. He can be reached at swalters@cdispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott. 

 

 

Scott is sports copy editor and reporter

 

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