December 30, 2017 10:47:31 PM
STARKVILLE -- If there is such a thing as an "it factor," Noah Methvin and Dontae Gray possess it.
It just so happens the two-way senior standouts have different ways to display their brand of leadership.
As a defensive back/quarterback for Starkville Academy, Methvin had a knack for finding photographers and cameramen, while Gray, a running back/defensive back form Heritage Academy didn't mind if he had his picture taken or if he had his highlights on television.
Despite having two different methods, Methvin and Gray were the engines that drove their teams. While Methvin was a verbal leader who infected his teammates with his confidence, Gray delivered the same intangible with a quiet demeanor.
For their accomplishments, Methvin and Gray are The Dispatch's Small Schools co-Offensive Players of the Year.
"I think you're born with it, whatever it is," Starkville Academy coach Chase Nicholson said. "I think your decisions along the way are what shapes it."
Nicholson said he recalls a conversation he had with Methvin's mother and having her tell him Noah was born with the ability to be a leader. Starkville Academy relied on Methvin's poise and resolve to have a history-making season. It bounced back from a loss to Indianola Academy in the third week of the season to win its last 11 games. The final victory -- a 21-14 overtime decision against Indianola Academy in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA State title game -- helped the Volunteers end the season on a nine-game winning streak and earn the program's seventh state championship.
Methvin, who split time at quarterback with Ben Owens, was 60-for-109 for 679 yards and 11 touchdowns (six interceptions). He also had 95 carries for 453 yards and 14 touchdowns. Methvin added 24 tackles (11 solo), two sacks, three tackles for loss, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.
"I feel like my 10th-grade year I was a little passive because there were a lot of other leaders on the team," Methvin said. "Last year, stepping into the quarterback role, I kind of had to (have an it factor) a little bit. Coach Nicholson and I talked about it and I needed to be more vocal than I was the year before, so I just started working on it.
"This year, it just kind of fell into my lap because we had a lot of young guys. We had a lot of sophomores that stepped up and a lot of juniors that hadn't played in a few years, so we had a lot of young guys. I really felt like it was really on me and some of the other returning seniors to step up and be vocal leaders."
Methvin, whose face was on the scoreboard at Jackson Academy prior to the state championship game against Indianola Academy, seemed to be everywhere. He wasn't loud all of the time, but when he wasn't in the game he usually was at the side of Nicholson, listening to play calls and ready to offer assistance or a pat on the back.
"He made the plays all year that we needed," Starkville Academy senior defensive lineman/tight end Kyle Faver said. "We'd drive down the field and he would come in and punch it in every time. It worked great for us because he is a big guy and he has a nose for the end zone."
Methvin credited for Volunteers like Colt Chrestman and Houston Clark for setting an example he followed late in his career. He hopes the qualities he displayed as a vocal and on-the-field leader will rub off on some of his teammates who will return to lead the football team in 2018.
"Guys like Colt and Houston had such a positive effect on me in my sophomore year that I wanted to have that effect on somebody else," said Methvin, who joined Faver in the MAIS Senior All-Star game. Gray also was selected. "That is how it keeps going. They had somebody that affected them and they kept going in a leadership role. They taught me so much about being a leader, vocalizing things, and picking me up all of the time."
While Methvin was vocal in a dual role, Gray was a silent assassin. In addition to being one of the state's top running backs, Gray played in the secondary and solidified that unit.
Gray played an integral role in the Patriots' 9-3 season. He paced Heritage Academy with 1,275 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns. He added 835 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Gray complemented that with one interceptions and more than 40 tackles.
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 gained weight and added strength in the offseason and became a more powerful back. As a result, he said Gray was able to run through more tacklers this season. Still, he acknowledged Gray never said anything about the role he played.
"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."
The 5-foot-10, 193-pound senior is considering going to Army. He said he always has taken a selfless approach to sports.
He did it all without saying very much.
"I would say it comes from my mom, Consuela, and how I was raised to care about others and my coaches and my teammates," Gray said.
Gray said his mother and family members taught him to respect others. As a result, he said the selflessness came with it, as did comments Gray made to credit his offensive linemen for helping him to run for so many yards and his teammates for giving him opportunities to make so many plays.
"I just wanted to win," Gray said. "I was more of a decoy early in the season. I was fine with it because we were winning."
Gray smiled when asked if he realized not all players would have been fine with doing what is best for the team and giving up individual glory. Gray said he didn't worry about his stats.
"I just play for my team," Gray said. "I do what I have to do. If he needs me to do more, I will do it. It is just how I think."
Heritage Academy coach Sean Harrison said Gray always has been a selfless young man who is quick to hand out praise and compliments. He admitted Gray was the reason he decided to leave Wayne Academy and work at Heritage Academy.
"I never would have imagined coming here that he is the type of kid he is," Harrison said. "He has two great parents, a supportive brother. He has a great family, and you can tell he has been taught well."
Harrison said Gray never complained, even if it meant playing defense, which he said Gray didn't like. Harrison said the offensive honor is even more impressive because Gray has sacrificed to get everything he has attained.
"We have won 19 games in two years, and a huge part of that is him," Harrison said. "In two years, he has played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, safety, corner, and maybe some outside linebacker, but there weren't any complaints. He just did what he was asked to do. His attitude and his work ethic are going to carry him a long way.
"He wasn't vocal, and he wasn't going to say much, so when he did say something or do something, everybody got in line."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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