September 24, 2010 8:34:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- With one player''s injury comes a teammate''s opportunity to shine.
But it''s also a responsibility some players can''t handle.
For Starkville High''s football team, particularly its offense, it was necessary a receiver step up to the challenge of leading a young and depleted receiver group.
Against West Point, the Yellow Jackets (2-2) found the answer in senior Shaquille Hill, who scored the game-winner on a diving, 23-yard score. He had four catches for 66 yards in Starkville''s 21-20 win.
And though the numbers aren''t overwhelming, they''re encouraging to a team with a skill group ravaged by season-ending injuries.
Gabe Myles was shelved following a broken collar bone and two broken ribs, while Kentrell Spencer had surgery Monday to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Running back Preston Baker, who is out with a broken jaw, is expected back on Oct. 15 when the Jackets host Southaven.
SHS head coach Jamie Mitchell has been pleased thus far with senior quarterback Jaquez Johnson''s passing, but the first-year SHS boss knew the offense wouldn''t take off until the receivers started to make plays.
"It was as simple as our guys just catching the ball most times," Mitchell said. "But you''ve got to remember the inexperience at the position."
Hill is the perfect example of that greenness, though it''s not because of his age.
The senior averaged 3.4 points and 3.3 rebounds per game as a reserve guard for Starkville''s 6A state championship basketball team. He''s also played outfield on back-to-back playoff baseball teams.
Hill has plenty of experience as a winner in two sports, but during his sophomore year Hill left football behind. He says he''d "lost the love for it."
So when Hill told his quarterback he was joining the team in the spring, there was some skepticism.
"I didn''t believe him at first," Johnson said Thursday. "The way he was talking he thought it was going to be easy, maybe come back to him quicker. You have to learn, then you have to learn how to do it at a pace to keep up with game speed. You have to have somebody holding you while you''re running your routes, and hitting you.
"There''s so much that goes into it."
Hill admits he''s far from the form he expects to tap by the end of the season, but the West Point performance alone was a good gauge to how far he''s come since spring ball.
Against the Green Wave, who were the No. 1-ranked 5A team at the time, Starkville scored 21 unanswered points. They did it on the road on a big-time stage. And if Hill doesn''t make the plays that helped SHS win the game, the Jackets are sitting at 1-3 heading into tonight''s region opener at DeSoto Central (0-4).
"To understand how far we''ve come in the passing game, you''ve got to understand who''s stepping up," Mitchell said. "Shaquille is doing that, so you immediately think about how you can get him the ball more. Narrow it down to the routes we feel he can run.
"So much has been trial and error up to this point because you have to see what a kid can do."
For Hill, he knew he had speed and leaping ability to go along with a basketball player''s mittens. Summer league 7-on-7 and extra reps before and/or after practice were needed to shake the rust.
Easy enough, though getting in the flow a game and developing a rhythm with Johnson was an arduous process, Hill said.
"It starts off with the shorter routes," Hill explained. "When you catch those it builds your confidence and the jitters are gone quicker. Then you''re focused on what you''re going to do after that catch. It builds your confidence. "
Johnson said he feels comfortable throwing hitches and jump balls to Hill, whom he expects to catch fire against 6A struggler DeSoto Central. The Jaguars have given up 138 points through three games.
"They run a real soft zone, so there''s going to be a lot of holes," Johnson said. "Their safeties are easy to look off and they''re predictable. There''ll be a lot of open holes for the ball."
Hill, though confident he''ll have success tonight, is just anxious to see the offense again run in high gear following a bye week.
"I''m looking at them as I would any other opponent," Hill said. "I want us to complete passes, move the ball and do what we have to do. I look at it the same way in preparation. I have to focus on my role in our offense."
NOTE: Senior linebacker/defensive end Prinston Henderson is fully recovered from meniscus surgery and will play tonight. Henderson missed the Jackets'' first four games.
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