November 30, 2017 11:01:50 PM
STARKVILLE -- Starkville High School's football practices are usually textbook examples of light-hearted yet structured productivity.
It was a seemingly random Monday afternoon in October when everything was proceeding as it normally would: period to period, all movements were the same. Then as the starting defense prepared for its opponent that week, it had a twist for a scout team quarterback: its head coach, Chris Jones. Jones was not shy about juking past some of his defenders, making contact with others -- with no pads on -- and throwing over the rest for touchdowns.
Such moments have not been the norm around the Yellow Jackets this week. This week is different.
This concludes state championship week as Starkville (13-2) plays Pearl (15-0) in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A state championship game 7 p.m. Friday at Ole Miss' Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
"I think these kids know what time it is. They understand how important it is right now," Jones said. "They understand the magnitude of the moment."
Jones has grown accustomed to an environment in which players are usually walking around the locker room in conversation and he has to tell them to sit down when he was a point to make. He's come to like it that way, taking it as a signal of the game still being fun for them. The seriousness of it all has been strange, but the players have no reservations about it.
"It's a different vibe," senior linebacker Abdias Simpore said. "It really starts when we get out of third block: we walk straight down here and it's a serious vibe right when we get here.
"Before we'd come down here playing around a little bit. Now we're here and getting more serious about it because we know we're playing for a championship."
In fairness, practice has been a little bit different by design. Jones is well aware of the fact that Starkville did not play a road game in the entire month of November. To simulate it as best as he could, he held the Tuesday and Wednesday practices at the Mississippi State practice fields, in hopes the act of getting on a bus and going somewhere else and quickly jump into football activity would help them do the same in Oxford.
Even with that provision, Jones agrees: there's something different about his tea, this week. As he looks back on it, he struggles to find the right word. He wouldn't call them uptight: after all, Tuesday's practice saw a boom box with wheels blaring rap music used as the distraction device for kickers.
After a minute of consideration, he figured out what the right term is -- one he really likes.
"Locked-in," Jones said. "That's something I've been preaching all year, for them to lock in."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson