August 29, 2018 10:26:50 PM
STARKVILLE -- Hang out around Chase Nicholson and you're bound to hear a few impersonations.
Nicholson has reserved his vocal interpretation of the Hulk, the green Marvel Comics behemoth, for senior lineman Walker Tranum.
The Starkville Academy football coach is versatile enough to use other voices to highlight the thoughts of people outside his program. He has heard plenty of those voices this week as Starkville Academy prepares to play host to Indianola Academy at 7 p.m. Friday. For those who don't remember, Starkville Academy defeated Indianola Academy 21-14 in overtime last season to win the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA State title. Both teams are considered contenders for the championship this season.
"I have to challenge the guys and convince them we can't go out there and get beat and have the players say, 'We got beat last year,' " Nicholson said. "No because that is last year. It is about this year."
In part of that comment, Nicholson used a voice that sounded like deputy Barney Fife, who was played by Don Knotts, on the "Andy Griffith Show." Interestingly, Nicholson said some have remarked he has a voice characterization that sounds like Opie, played by Ron Howard, who was the son of Sheriff Andy Taylor on the same show.
Regardless of which voice you prefer, Nicholson has spent a lot of time this week making sure any talk about the matchup against Indianola Academy is in context.
"Everyone is talking about, 'They're out for revenge from last year (or) it is a rematch of the state championship game from last year,' " Nicholson said. "It is not a rematch of the state championship game. This is the 2018 team. That was the 2017 team. This is not the same team. They don't have the same team.
"We appreciate a lot of people are excited about us playing, but where were they last week? Where are they going to be next week? There is an excitement surrounding the program, period. It is where it should be."
Nicholson feels the Volunteers (2-0) are where they should be entering week three. Victories against Lamar School and French Camp Academy have come with improvement. Entering this week, he said the players have the right mind-set and aren't thinking about the 2017 regular-season meeting against Indianola Academy (a 35-21 loss) or the victory in the state title game at Jackson Academy. He said the Volunteers adopted that mind-set in the spring to avoid falling into familiar patterns or tendencies.
Nicholson said the Volunteers are "finding our identity" as they move forward. Part of that maturation process includes players moving into bigger roles. He said Noah Aweau and Ben Brown, special teams guys who made the most of their one plays against Lamar School, received bigger chances against French Camp Academy and responded by catching passes and blocking. He said both players' roles have increased.
Nicholson also pointed to C.J. Jackson, a player he told at the beginning of the week, "Monday is C.J. day. You have to get better and you have to get right." He said he made that comment to Jackson so he would be ready to go when he was inserted into the game. Nicholson said Jackson was "going in the right direction" and did a good job in the fourth quarter against French Camp Academy.
"They want their names to be associated with Starkville Academy football," Nicholson said. "They want their names to be associated with the Taylor Arnolds, the Howell Archers, and we want that for them and for everybody."
Nicholson also said Mike Winfield's role on special teams increased this week, which shows the Volunteers' depth is growing as they approach District 2 play. He hopes that mind-set is infectious and encourages more players to step up and to show out in an attempt to earn more playing time.
Nicholson hopes everyone will continue to play their roles and try to do more to help the Volunteers create a new identity for 2018. If all of the players do that, Nicholson feels good about what this year's team can accomplish.
"It is not pitting anybody against each other. We are all in this thing together," Nicholson said. "This one is going to get better. If you will get better with him, then there you go."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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