November 30, 2017 10:26:50 AM
Four players and one coach from the Golden Triangle are in Jackson this week to wrap up the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) football season.
Heritage Academy's Dontae Gray and Starkville Academy's Kyle Faver and Noah Methvin will play for Oak Hill Academy coach Chris Craven on the Blue team, while Columbus Christian Academy's Nate Parker will play on the White team in the MAIS' annual Senior All-Star Game at 3 p.m. Friday at Jackson Prep.
Players reported to Jackson on Tuesday to begin two days of preparation for the game, which features some of the state's top seniors from all classifications.
Gray, a 5-foot-10, 193-pound running back/cornerback, played an integral role in the Patriots' 9-3 season. Gray paced Heritage Academy on the ground with 1,275 yards and 18 touchdowns. He added 835 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He complemented that with one interceptions and more than 40 tackles from his position in the secondary.
Heritage Academy coach Sean Harrison praised Gray for being a quiet leader on a young team. He said Gray never complained even when things were a little harder this season compared to 2016, when the Patriots relied on a senior-laden offensive line.
Harrison said Gray set the tone for the 2017 season in the offseason. He said he gained weight and added strength and became a more powerful back.
"Early in his junior year, he tried to hit the home run too much," Harrison said. "He kind of ran like every run was supposed to be a touchdown. Sometime he didn't finish runs the right way being physical.
"This year, he worked hard, gained the good weight, and was more of a physical running back. Instead of running around them in his junior year he was running around them and through them in his senior year. It was a lot harder to tackle him."
Harrison is confident Gray will have an opportunity to play football at the next level, although he isn't sure where it will be. He said a few schools are still doing their homework on Gray, but he wants them to know they would be getting a lead-by-example player who puts the team first.
"He just wants to put his head down and do what is best for his team," Harrison said. "He is a guy who cares for his teammates You saw a lot of sophomores look up to him this season. He is not one who wants attention. He is not one to celebrate a touchdown. That is the type of guy he is. He was an absolute joy to coach. I am certainly going to miss him."
Methvin and Faver were driving forces behind Starkville Academy's run to the Class AAA State title. Methvin, who played quarterback and defensive end, was 60-for-109 for 679 yards and 11 touchdowns (six interceptions). He also had 95 carries for 453 yards and 14 touchdowns. He added 11 solo tackles (24 overall), two sacks, three tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
"He was the face of the program," Starkville Academy coach Chase Nicholson said, referring to the fact Methvin was the player whose picture the MAIS selected out from the team's four captains on its advertisements for the game. Methvin's face also was on the scoreboard at Jackson Academy prior to the game. "He attracted that kind of attention. He just had it."
Faver, who also played on the defensive line, was a inspirational force who reminded the Volunteers of their mission by saying "Nov. 18," which was the date of the Class AAA State title game at Jackson Academy. Starkville Academy (13-1) beat previously undefeated Indianola Academy 21-14 in overtime to take the title.
"He just had this will that he was not going to be denied," Nicholson said. "He was going to play hard, going to be coached hard, going to take the coaching, and he took it to heart. He really tried to get better every day. Some days he failed, but he tried the best he could."
Nicholson said the Volunteers rallied around the infectious spirit and energy of Methvin and Faver, so it is fitting both players received an opportunity to represent the team and the school in the annual event.
"This is a very well deserved honor for both of them," Nicholson said. "Meth was such an integral part on both sides of the ball. ... He is what always made us go. His smile contagious. His attitude was contagious. He led by example.
"Faver just had a no-quit attitude. It was fun to talk to him because he believed we were never going to quit."
Parker, who is a multi-sports standout at CCA, was a leader at quarterback and in the secondary for the Rams, who advanced to the first round of the Class A playoffs.
"He did a great job playing quarterback for us," CCA coach Greg Watkins said. "He probably would have benefited us more playing running back, but we didn't have anybody really for that quarterback role and he stepped right in and did a great there."
Watkins said Parker's contributions in multiple sports -- football, boys basketball, cross country, track and field -- have increased as he has gained confidence. He said Parker's work ethic also has set an example for his younger teammates in each sport.
"His work ethic picked up when he won the state in hurdles," Watkins said. "You could see his confidence and his work ethic from between his sophomore and his junior year take off. ... The younger guys respect him because they see his work ethic. They see Nate working as hard as he has worked and the success he has had, and that gives them something to shoot for."
Craven guided Oak Hill Academy to a 6-4 season and a second-place finish to Marshall Academy in Class AA, District 1. The Raiders earned an at-large bid to the postseason thanks in large part to a five-game winning streak early in the season. Tri-County Academy eliminated Oak Hill Academy in the first round of the playoffs.
This is Craven's second time coaching in the annual game. In 2015, he was an assistant coach on the Blue team. That squad featured Oak Hill Academy players Heath Ford and Caleb Roberson and Starkville Academy's Colt Chrestman.
There will be an awards banquet tonight at Hinds Community College's Clyde Muse Center in Pearl.
Tickets for the game are $10. Gates will open at 1:30 p.m. Friday.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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