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Starkville, Louisville battle for first win

 

David Miller

 

Jamie Mitchell figuratively relates his job to pulling teeth when four years have passed and it''s time for a new project. 

 

Because for all the work that goes into tactically rebuilding a struggling football team, just as much effort is  rightfully devoted to changing habits, attitudes and work routine.  

 

Starkville High School''s head football coach has enjoyed a successful run of rebuilding programs into division-winning teams, but for the hours, days and months spent "getting people to buy in" there''s a significant amount of stress levied on the boss.  

 

Make no mistake, this is a draining time for Mitchell.  

 

"I love going into new places, but I don''t think people understand where you start from and how much change has to take place," Mitchell said. "It''s been a brutal challenge, as it always is, and people don''t understand it''s the most taxing thing you can do [in coaching].  

 

"But I love it." 

 

Mitchell admits that because of the stress involved with relocating so frequently, he''s promised his family that Starkville is the last stop in where he hopes to create a career-finishing dynasty.  

 

So far at Starkville, he''s already earned the praise of area colleagues for Starkville''s display of toughness in the preseason and season opener against Noxubee County.   

 

But for the excitement and signs of progress displayed in its 14-7 loss to Noxubee County, times are still hectic for Mitchell and his staff ahead of tonight''s 7:30 game at Louisville .  

 

They''re trying to cram as much information and instruction into game-week preparations, all while still identifying the team''s best players. 

 

Not until Week 4 or 5 will the team start to settle into its starting lineups and daily routines, Mitchell said. 

 

It''s a far cry from how things were in the spring, when Mitchell feared his team might struggle to be competitive early in the season.  

 

"By the fourth or fifth game, which is halfway through, you''ve usually found your identity," Mitchell said. "You''re always going to have surprises both good and bad, but by that fourth week you''ve identified the guys who can make plays and those who can''t in game situations.  

 

"We feel like it''s taken every ounce we''ve got to get to where we are, but I tell our coaches we''ll look back on this next year and be laughing about how far we''ve come from that point." 

 

Starkville quarterback Jaquez Johnson described the process as "hard times," naming several aspects in which the team has had to adjust without error.  

 

"It''s easy to get along with them and that helps the transition, but you''ve got different practices, different day-to-day routines in the fourth block that take some getting used to," Johnson said. 

 

As a result, finishing has been the theme drilled home by the coaches, as five drives inside Noxubee County''s half came up empty. The mental mistakes left Mitchell and the team ruing a missed opportunity. 

 

"We feel like we gave them a win," Johnson said. "We feel like we should be 1-0, and the coaches are trying to get us to focus more. It''s during the week, watching film, we see ourselves making mistakes from not having mental strength. We started messing up in the fourth quarter, and that''s not how you finish."  

 

Along the lines of finishing, Louisville head coach M.C. Miller''s attention has been directed toward toughening a team with new starters on both lines.  

 

Like Mitchell, Miller lost his debut in a blown-lead defeat to Northwest Rankin.  

 

And like Mitchell, Miller took over a program with multiple state titles in the trophy case. 

 

But even though Miller has coached at Louisville as an assistant previously in his career, he spent 30 years coaching at Noxubee County.  

 

His transition came on the heels of accepting a job to coach Harrison Central before Brad Peterson left Louisville and moved to Brandon to take over as athletic director and head coach.  

 

Timing, a small group of experienced players and a change in offensive scheme have intensified the transition, though the perks of taking over a winner makes for minimal repairs. 

 

"We''re a little behind on some things, just trying to get our system in and get our alignments right," Miller said. "I think we''ve done a good job getting the kids ready, and we''re going to be fine. Our skilled players are good, but we need both lines to come around. We don''t have a lot of depth, but we do have some skilled people." 

 

Miller said there''s not much benefit to playing a Starkville team that game-planned for identical systems because of the physical nature of the Jackets'' first game. It was beyond how his team performed against Northwest Rankin, and if the team can adapt to that style of play two-touchdown leads won''t be squandered n the future. 

 

"Tough, hard-nosed football is what we have to play," Miller said. "I don''t think it takes long once you get everything the way you want it. And we''re getting better with each practice.  

 

"We''re facing a team in a similar situation, and both of us need a win. We have to play tough football to win." 

 

 

 

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