May 14, 2010 8:36:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The hectic time period the Starkville High Yellow Jackets have gone through under a new head coach will conclude when they play Brandon and Forest Hill in tonight''s jamboree at Jackson''s Newell Field.
For the past three weeks, the Jackets have beat up each other while trying to learn new systems on both sides of the ball and head coach Jamie Mitchell''s practice tempo.
The first-year Jackets head coach admits there are "loose ends" that still need to be tied up, but he believes the team is on course with where he wanted it to be heading into tonight''s 5 p.m. start.
Still, he''s not sure what to expect from a team he''s only put through 13 practices.
"I''ve been asking our coaches what''s going to happen Friday night because I really have no idea," Mitchell said. "I didn''t sleep well last night just thinking about it, but I know it''s going to be fun.
"If I could write the perfect script, we''d have some success and adversity to see how we deal with good results and shortcomings."
Mitchell and his staff have stressed the importance of responding positively when negative plays occur or when an opponent is controlling a certain aspect of the game.
So far, the only way they''ve been able to simulate that is through practice.
While Mitchell wants to see more leaders emerge and players bounce back from adversity, the players have been saddled with new plays, new terminology, two new coaches and an entirely different way of handling business.
That''s a two-fold dilemma.
"You''re trying to learn and move fast at the same time, but sometimes you got to slow down to realize what you''re doing on the field," senior quarterback Jaquez Johnson said. "That''s been tough."
Mitchell anticipated the learning curve holding back some of the progress players could make in the playbook and in intra-squad scrimmage situations.
"One thing that''s hurt us is we''re still looking for leadership" Mitchell said. "It''s hard to lead when you''re trying so hard to learn, though. Every bit of what we''re going is brand new. We''re trying to get practice as close to game speed as we can."
Mitchell noted standout spring practices from Johnson, lineman Jarrod Atterberry, linebackers D.J. Jordan and Prinston Henderson, and defensive back Garrett Smith.
In Brandon, the Jackets face a Class 6A team that finished three games above .500 and is coached by former Louisville head coach Brad Peterson.
Class 5A side Forest Hill went 5-6 last season, capping the year by dropping five of its last six games.
Johnson is excited about the new look offense the team will put on the field tonight in a pair of varsity and junior varsity two-quarter games.
The Jackets senior quarterback said the passing plays are similar, just with new terminology. The run plays differ, however.
"It''s a lot of passing and sweeps to the outside and behind the tackles," Johnson said. "I''m liking the speed sweeps and the reverses, which we''re running pretty good. We run the lead pretty good, too, trying to pound it a little bit and then step back and throw. I''m ready to go."
Defensively, the team will run a three-man front similar to a 5-2 but with the ends in two-point stances. The idea has been to create havoc in the backfield, Henderson said.
"We''re getting good at putting pressure on the quarterback and getting plays clogged up where they can''t have a chance to develop," Henderson said. "If we can do those things tomorrow, then we should be pretty successful.
"It''s going to feel real good to get that kill shot on the quarterback tomorrow."
n NOTES: Junior running back Jerral Shields recently had surgery on a dislocated ankle suffered this spring. Mitchell said he should return in August...Junior lineman Eric Rogers has been hampered by a sprained ankle suffered last week and is probable to play today.