Starkville High School football coach Chris Jones congratulates sophomore Ahmir Taylor (34) during a game earlier this season. Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to The Dispatch
August 29, 2018 10:27:48 PM
STARKVILLE -- Willie Gillespie has been hearing it for years, both on the good side and the bad side. He knows there is plenty of bragging going on around the Starkville-West Point rivalry, and it's been that way for decades.
Gillespie is part of it himself: when asked about his playing career as a Starkville High School Yellow Jacket and his meetings with West Point, he was quick to point out, "they never beat me."
The storied history of the rivalry between the Yellow Jackets and West Point adds another chapter 7 p.m. Friday when the Green Wave (2-0) visit Starkville (2-0). It will be the 96th meeting between the two, with at least one meeting per season every year since 1924. Gillespie saw it as a player in 1979 and as a coach over the last decade plus; he's seen this rivalry at every stage.
"It's evolved. Traditionally, it's still communities that were not very fond of each other and programs that were very competitive in football," said Gillespie, who coaches Starkville's wide receivers. "You also had two communities that were intertwined, you had companies who employed several people from Starkville in West Point.
"The emotions of the game in terms of expectations, in terms of fan participation, the excitement in the air, man. The excitement of playing in that game, it's pretty much indescribable. The blood starts to boil more, it's a game you're passionate about winning."
Starkville's running backs coach Carlos Kemp feels the same way after playing in the 1985, 1986 and 1987 versions of the game. He beat the Green Wave twice.
"I remember the intensity of the week, the buildup of how big of a game it was," Kemp said.
The series has been very kind to Starkville over its history, as it enters Friday with a 70-21-4 record over West Point. Records of that ilk suggest periods of prolonged dominance, as was the case in the 13-game streak from 1990-2003; however, nine of West Point's 21 wins in the series have come since 2004.
This year's meeting is reaching heights rarely seen in series history. West Point enters with an active 30-game winning streak, a streak that began after Starkville beat the Green Wave in 2016.
It's a welcome addition to a rivalry that may have lost some of its bitter nature as players from different cities come to know and befriend each other through social media, summer camps and other means.
"Of course you have different takes from people in the past when you ask them about the rivalry. If you ask someone older from Starkville, 'I hate West Point.' If you ask someone older from West Point, 'I hate Starkville,'" Gillespie said. "The kids nowadays are different in terms of respecting one another as far as the game goes.
"Back in the day, it was a grueling, we don't really like you guys, people from West Point shouldn't be in Starkville, people from Starkville shouldn't be in West Point, that kind of thing. You didn't cross those lines, that's just how it was. There was borderline hate there for quite some time."
Now, the primary draw could be two of Mississippi's best going at it once more: Starkville is a favorite to win the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A championship and West Point is the same for 5A.
The draw won't be that for Kemp and Gillespie, who will stay true to the Starkville-West Point rivalry they grew up with and played in themselves. Still, the quality of the game in 2017 will give it a spotlight all the same.
"I think it's great for football," Gillespie said. "We've traditionally been dominant in our division and West Point has been dominant in there. I think we're in a good place, I think both teams respect what each other has done."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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