High School Report

Unless otherwise noted, all articles on this page were either written by Jeremiah Short or were taken from press releases submitted to us. Jeremiah Short covers Mississippi State University football and basketball.  Follow him on Twitter, @JeremiahShort26; join his Facebook blog, Real Story Sports: J.Short’s Blog, or e-mail him, JShort@realstorypublishing.com.

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Mitchell Bringing Back a Winning
Attitude to the Yellow Jackets

For a number of years, Starkville High had been considered one of the most dominant programs in the state of Mississippi. They fell on hard times, for a while, and then they brought in Jamie Mitchell to turn the four-time state championship program around. It was right up Mitchell’s alley, since he had turned around every program that he had taken over.

The Pontotoc, Mississippi native paid his dues for 7½ years, as an assistant, before getting his shot at Ripley. It’s been a learning experience, leading a program for the first time.

“Of course, you think you know it all, when you get that first head coaching job. It doesn’t take more than one ball game for you to figure out that you don’t know anything. It certainly takes some time to get adjusted,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell eventually moved on to Charleston, where he stayed for two years – making it to the North Half championship. He was hired at Olive Branch, and did a masterful job – leading the Conquistadors to two North Half berths, before losing to South Panola, both times. After four years at Olive Branch, Mitchell took the job at Itawamba. He put together an impressive 41-10 record, while coaching the Indians and reached the North State championship game, again.

“I’ve moved around a lot, and I really enjoy taking programs that are down, then building them back up. I have been really fortunate that, when I left them, they have been really good programs. One of the things that I’m proudest of, is that those programs continue to play really good football,” Mitchell stated.

The job that Mitchell always wanted, Starkville High, came open after Bill Lee resigned. He was one of twenty-seven applicants, but the Yellow Jackets chose the accomplished coach.

“I spent four years at Tupelo and four at Olive Branch. Eight of twenty years of coaching, I played against Starkville. When you play against a team that much, you become conscious of the type of talent they have. I really felt this program has been a hotbed for talent; the program had dipped a bit. When I came here it was really low. The type of programs I look for, are the ones that have been successful in the past and, for whatever reason, have fallen on hard times. For some reason, I really like those challenges. I went to college, here, and it’s a great place to live. It kind of fit what I was looking for, at that point in time,” Mitchell said, in explaining why he took the Starkville High job.

Mitchell’s pedigree may have played a role in his hire; he coached under some big-name coaches.

“I think I’ve had some of the best mentors you could have,” says Mitchell. “I worked for Tommy Morton, who was my high school head coach. I think he is as good as they come. I worked for [James] Booty Sloan, who is in the Mississippi High School Hall Of Fame. I worked for Charlie Dampier. I was fortunate to work for some really good guys.”

Aside from having terrific mentors, Mitchell has been blessed with tremendous talent: K.J. Wright, Markeith Summers, Anthony Summers, Allen Walker, and Ashton Shumpert are just a few of the players that Mitchell has coached.

“It makes your job a lot easier. You always like to have those guys around. I’ve been very blessed to coach numerous Division I guys. Those guys are your best character guys,” Mitchell said.

The veteran head coach was sure to have similar talent at Starkville High, but he had to change their attitude, as the Yellow Jackets had losing seasons in two of the last three years before he arrived.

“I think that’s been the constant everywhere that I have been – changing the work ethic of kids is by far the hardest thing to do. Every program I’ve gone to – changing that work ethic is the hardest thing to do. Those kids have to learn what it takes to win and that doesn’t come overnight,” said Mitchell.

The Yellow Jackets showed signs that a turnaround was coming, in Mitchell’s first season. They went 5-6 and were close in several other games.

“You have to learn how to play in games, before you can win games. We spent a whole year trying to learn how to compete in games,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell’s team, building off the 2010 season, went 12-3 in 2011 – making it all the way to the state championship game, where they lost to Picayune High. The loss was a tough pill to swallow for Mitchell. “It was probably the worst loss I’ve ever experienced.” he admitted.

He knows that getting the team back to the state championship level was a positive sign.

“We do take some pride, in that we got our program back. In Starkville, people expect you to play deep into the playoffs. They expect state championships, here, and that’s why I wanted to be here,” said Mitchell.

The Yellow Jackets suffered a tough loss on the field, but they suffered an even tougher loss, off the field, on New Year’s Night. Devin Mitchell (no relation), a star junior receiver, was gunned down in West Point, Mississippi. Coach Mitchell admittedly doesn’t have any answers on to how to handle the death of a player, since he has no experience from which to draw.

“That is the absolute worst thing I’ve experienced in twenty-two years of coaching. Losing a player is something that you can’t describe – and to lose one of his character and morals, makes it that much worse.  The way it happened was so senseless, and it makes it so much worse. We talk about Devin, regularly, and he’s going to be with us; it would have been his senior year,” Mitchell stated, on discussing the death of Devin Mitchell.

“I wish someone would have given me a book stating to do this or to do that. We’ve had to steer ourselves through this. There are days we talk about Devin, a lot, and some days we don’t. He’s always with us. I certainly don’t have the answers on how to steer our way through this.”

As the team deals with Mitchell’s death, they have to get ready for their upcoming season. The expectations will be high for a team that made it to the state championship game, last year. Complacency can sometimes set in, after a good season.

“I think that is very easy; you become the hunted, instead of the hunter. Our kids know that we are going to get everyone’s best. The measuring stick is there, and they want to beat Starkville. The expectations will be high and we embrace that.”

Jamie Mitchell feels pretty good about where his program is, heading into year three of his regime.

“I think we are in great shape. Our junior high program is firmly entrenched and established. We have really good coaches in place there. I feel real good about the direction we are heading right now.”

 Originally Published in the June 6, 2012 Print Edition

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Williams Looking To Bust Loose In 2012

The state of Mississippi is blessed with a couple of talented running backs in the 2013 recruiting class – Ashton Shumpert and Kailo Moore – who should have their choice of schools. Aeris Williams, the West Point (HS) Green Wave back-up running back could garner the same type of attention in the 2014 recruiting year.

Williams first saw action as a freshman—rushing for 51 yards in limited duty. His role expanded in 2011, as the bruising running back accumulated 1,353 total yards (778 rushing, 250 receiving yards, and 325 kickoff return yards) and 14 total touchdowns. He doesn’t feel his role has expanded – just changed.

“You have to look up to the running backs, here. And you have to work hard to get playing time, here,” said Williams.

“It really didn’t expand because we’ve got a lot of good running backs here. We just try to outwork each other and make each other better to get on the field.”

A healthy competition has developed between Williams and starting running back Tez Lane.

“Before every game we go against each other, to see who is going to get the most yards,” says Williams. “He gets the long runs and I run over people.”

He added, “I like running over people!”

Both running backs are aided by 210-pound fullback Mario Virges, who the rising junior considers to be a big factor in his success.

“It really helps, because you see the hole better. The only person that is there is the linebacker and you’re off to the races,” Williams said.

Although Williams is a back-up, big-time Division I programs are taking notice. Some even feel that he can be the best running back in the state, his senior year. He keeps a level-headed attitude about the attention.

“I don’t really look at that. I try to keep God first, and stay humble. I don’t want to get big-headed or anything like that,” said Williams, in responding on how he feels about the hype surrounding him.

Paul Jones, Bulldawg24/7 writer, feels the hype is warranted for Williams, who he has covered on several occasions.

“I think it’s safe to say that Williams and D.K. Buford, from Lafayette County, are definitely the best two backs. He’s 6’1 210 and runs a legit 4.5. He will be one of the top two or three prospects in the state.”

He can’t officially be offered a scholarship until September 1st, due to NCAA regulations, but two schools are showing him interest: Mississippi State and Alabama. Williams discussed what he liked about each school.

Alabama: “Alabama takes good care of their players – even if they don’t play,” says Williams, about how the Alabama staff treats their athletes.

Mississippi State: “I like State because they are hardcore; they don’t play games over there!”

Williams is a highly sought-after prospect, but he is very humble, according to his head coach, Chris Chambless.

“Aeris has a good work ethic; he takes the game very seriously. He loves his position and is very coachable. He is a humble kid. He has a couple years left of high school ball, and has a bright future ahead of himself, if he keeps a level head,” said Chambless.

The explosive running back feels that he needs to make improvements over the summer.

“Of course, get bigger, stronger, and faster – also see the hole better. Mario and I have been working on that, in the off-season,” Williams said.

Williams’ hard work should help him achieve his personal and team goals in 2012.

“Last year, I only got, like, 900 or so yards. This year I’m trying to get 1,000 yards, no fumbles, and 14 or 15 touchdowns,” says Williams.

“We are going to go ‘ham’ [play hard]; we got a younger offensive line. We are going to work hard over the summer and are going to be better – way better.”

If Williams reaches his goals, then the Green Wave could very well bring home their third state title in four years.

Originally Published in the May 30, 2012 Print Edition

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Another Virges Starring For The Green Wave

 The West Point (HS) Green Wave has been one of the more dominant running teams, in the state of Mississippi, for years.  They have continued to have success, the past few years. Mario Virges, the Green Wave’s starting fullback, has played a major role in their rushing attack, during that period.

The stout fullback has been a starter since his sophomore year, in 2010; he helped West Point win their second straight state title, that season. There is pressure coming in as an underclassman and starting on one of the state’s best teams: “It’s not easy and you think, ‘it’s hard’,” said Virges. “A tenth-grader starting in high school – it’s a big role. If I don’t get my guy, then the whole play is messed up. Everything was on my shoulders.”

Virges might have been better prepared than most, according to him, since he has played football all 17 years of his life.

Mario isn’t the first Virges to lace up the cleats for the Green Wave; his older brother Curtis, a defensive tackle, starred for West Point from 2006-2009; the elder Virges now plays thirty miles down the road, for the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Curtis Virges was known for being a weight room freak and his younger brother is following in his footsteps. He reports a bench press of 350 pounds and he squats 500 pounds.

“Can’t just be a football, you got to have the heart to be a football player. That is what he always told me,’ said Virges, in discussing what his brother has taught him.

The Green Wave went through a rebuilding year in 2011 – going only 8-5. Virges had to block for a new starting running back, Tez Lane, who he feels makes his life a little easier. Lane is known as a homerun hitter that can break the long run at any time.

“I have really been waiting for someone to say that, because Tez think he’s ‘that guy’! He is too quick. A big running back if you hold on to him, they go down,” says Virges, on Lane’s ability to take any play to the house.

Virges did suffer a broken fibula during the 2011 season. He had to sit out the spring, but the powerful lead blocker should be healthy by the start of the 2012 season. The upcoming season is all about “sacrifice” according to him.

West Point Head Coach Chris Chambless values what Virges brings to the table.

“Mario is one of the hardest workers we have. He’s a workout freak. He’s a good student and person. He got an older brother at Mississippi State that he looks up to and emulates. He’s coming off an injury and couldn’t go through spring with us. He is rehabbing hard, now, and doing well,” said Chambless.

Virges may be an asset to a Division I team in 2013. Mississippi State, Louisiana Teach, Alabama, Southern Miss, and Ole Miss have all expressed interest. Mario is following in his brother’s footsteps—while creating a name for himself.

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Miller Has Had A Hall Of Fame Career

M.C. Miller, the current Louisville Wildcat head football coach, has had a long and storied career that has seen him bounce between Noxubee County and Louisville. He has managed to win three state championships, as an assistant and head coach. Miller has become a true legend in the state of Mississippi – compiling an impressive 204-84 career record.

Miller, like most coaches, started off as a player. He starred for the Louisville Wildcats from 1963-1966 – playing offensive guard, nose guard, and linebacker. After graduating in 1967, Miller played for two years at Wiley College, before transferring to Alcorn State, due to the fact that Wiley dropped football. He never played for Alcorn State, though, spending the remainder of his college career recuperating from a knee injury he sustained at Wiley.

After earning a degree at Alcorn State, Miller traveled to various cities across the country – seeing America, according to him.

The Louisville, Mississippi native decided to put his coaching degree to good use by accepting an offer to be an assistant at Noxubee County High School, in 1975. He ended up coaching three different positions – offensive line, defensive line, and linebackers – before becoming the defensive coordinator, in 1978.

In 1979, Miller became Noxubee County’s head coach, a position he held for the eight years. He decided to take a job as an assistant at Louisville High School, in 1987. The Wildcats won two titles, while Miller was on the staff, using his attacking style on defense.

“I worked under three coaches, and they all were successful – went to state championships with all of them, “said Miller

The defensive specialist elected to return to Noxubee County High School in 1995, hoping to turn around a program that had struggled in his absence. He won two games his first year – more than the Tigers had won the previous two years. The Tigers had winning seasons, over the next two years, but went 3-8, in 1999.

Coach Miller made a change, around that time – he scrapped his power-running philosophy and went to the spread offense. The Tigers, a team that had long been defensive-oriented, now became one of the most explosive offenses in the state of Mississippi.

“We were going to the spread, right before Omarr (Conner) came. Before that, Derrick Harden couldn’t throw. We had to be more of a running team, then – with Albert Schofield and Michael Johnson,” Miller said, on going to the spread offense.

“Finally, we had a quarterback that could throw, in Chris Jones. He got hurt and Michael had to go back to quarterback. We had to go back to the running game”.

“Chris came back, but he wasn’t that accurate. We moved Omarr up and moved Chris to receiver. Omarr and Chris gave us a good combination, and that’s when we opened it up and started throwing the ball.”

Conner started as a freshman and put together one of the best careers in Mississippi high school football history.

“Omarr could throw and run the ball very well. We taught him how to read defenses; it made a big difference. We never did have a good offensive line, but, during that time, it all came together. We had four or five receivers; we had Joey Sanders, Chris Jones, Michael Johnson, Brandon Tate, and LaMarcus Windham. It just kept going, as time went on. After Omarr left, (James) Patterson stepped in. We started developing quarterbacks that could throw the ball,” Miller said.

Noxubee County established a winning tradition from 2000-2002, while Conner was the quarterback. It was Miller’s best collection of talent, during his years at Noxubee County. He feels they should have won the state title, during that era of Noxubee County football.

“That was the best team we had. We only had four coaches. You got to have a complete staff. We had the talent. The coaches we had were coaching too many positions. Sometimes, I was defensive coordinator and offensive coordinator,” stated Miller, in describing why he never won the state championship with that team.

Miller had problems filling out his coaching staff, during the 20-plus years in Macon, Mississippi.

“I never had the coaching staff at Noxubee I should have had. We never had more than five coaches. All the other schools had nine, ten, eleven coaches. We were competing with them. When it got to the playoffs, things got tough,” said Miller, speaking about his staffing issues.

The Tigers continued to be dominant, after Conner graduated, but they didn’t win a state title until 2008.

Miller had sent several players on to the college ranks. Omarr Conner, Joey Sanders, Chris Jones, Patrick Patterson, Vincent Sanders, Deontae Skinner are just a few of the talented young men who moved up to the next level. At one point, 14 of his former players were playing either Division I or II football.

“When you are done playing for me, I want you to go and play college somewhere. We always had seven or eight players sign every year,” said Miller.

This coaching legend left Noxubee County, for the final time, after the 2009 season. He took a coaching job at Harrison Central, but, shortly thereafter, the hometown Louisville Wildcats gave him a call; he couldn’t turn them down.

“That was a hard choice to leave Noxubee County and go to Harrison Central; they hadn’t been winning in football, period. I like a challenge; I always could build a team. After getting down there and getting situated for spring training, I was making more money, but it was getting taken up in rent. Then, the job in Louisville came open, a week and half later. The people at Louisville called me and asked if I was interested. I was like yeah,” stated Miller, explaining his feelings on leaving Noxubee.

The Wildcats were expected to struggle in 2010, after losing several seniors. Miller wasn’t scared off by the chatter.

“That was my first year, here. Everybody was saying the program was down. They had lost a bunch of seniors; they said we would be lucky to win only one or two ball games. I was like ‘I’m going to win more than one or two.’ They were like ‘how many games you think you’re going to win?’ I’m like ‘if you say we will win two, and then I will win at least three.’ We lost the first four games, then got on a roll,” said Miller.

The Wildcats finished 8-5, in 2010, after the early struggles – showing Miller’s ability to turn around a team.

The young team built off of the 2010 season and went 12-2 in 2011 – getting put out in the third round of the playoffs.

M.C. Miller has had a special career – possibly one worthy of the Hall of Fame. He has never thought about whether he will receive the honor of being selected for that prestigious recognition.

“I had a good career. I just like working with kids. I’ve been pretty successful. I work hard at it,” Miller said.

Miller hasn’t decided when he will retire from the profession, since he still has that burning desire to coach the game.

“I play it a year at a time. I figure if I can go two or three more years. I’ve been coaching for 30 some years. As long as I can get around, hoop-n-holla, and raise hell, then I will continue doing it. I like coaching kids and being around them, stated Miller.

Originally Published in the May 2, 2012 Print Edition

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  Myles Leading Yellow Jacket Resurgence

The Starkville High School Yellow Jackets have returned as one of the state’s top programs, in 2011. The leader of that resurgence is starting quarterback Gabe Myles, who threw for 1837 yards, to go along with 19 touchdowns. He also rushed for 849 yards, proving to be a true dual-threat. Myles is quietly becoming one of Mississippi’s top prospects, because of his exploits.

Myles was able to lead the Yellow Jackets to a 12-3 record and a berth in the state championship game, before losing to Picayune High School, 38-21. This was something that no one expected from this young football team.

“I felt, as team, we did pretty well. We did what people didn’t expect us to do, that first year, because the team was so young,” said Myles.

“Individually, I did alright; good enough to get the job done”.

“He (Jamie Mitchell) brought in a fresh desire for the players to want to win. He gave us a better work ethic. My 10th grade year, we had great seniors. They were able to turn the season around, and go 5-6. This past year, we had something to build off of, after missing the playoffs. One goal was to get back to the playoffs, and also win the state championship”.

The Yellow Jackets had just experienced a great season, but they faced tragedy, after the season, when sophomore football player Devin Mitchell was killed in West Point, Mississippi, on New Year’s Day. Mitchell’s death hit the Starkville community hard. Myles spoke on how the team dealt with the loss.

“It was tough, when I got the news. It’s like a bad dream you’re having. It affects the whole team in different ways. Some took it more to heart. Some were closer to Devin than others were. As a whole team, it hurt us all. He was a wonderful guy and person; also a wonderful athlete that helped us win ball games,” Myles on Mitchell’s death.

“What a lot of people are trying to say, is that they are doing it for Devin. We just want to do better, because we know if Devin was here, he would be holding it down for us.’

The team does plan to honor him, next season, by keeping his locker up in the newly-built lockeroom. They also plan to display his jersey, so he can still be a part of the team, in spirit.

Myles should be able to honor Mitchell, at the next level. He already has an offer from his hometown Mississippi State Bulldogs. He isn’t planning on committing early to the Bulldogs, even though his father, Eddie Myles, lettered at Mississippi State, from 1987-1990.

“I’ve been a Mississippi State fan as long as I remember. My dad played at Mississippi State. It’s a good feeling to know that Mississippi State is looking at me. I just want to experience the recruitment process,” said Myles.

The versatile athlete is being recruited to play defensive back, but he is still focused on playing quarterback for Starkville High School.

“Right now, I’m a quarterback at Starkville High School. So, everything I have will go to being a quarterback – after that, I’m a defensive back,” said Myles.

“I can’t stop getting better at a position I play now, for a position I will be playing later on.”

Myles is emerging as a young star, but he is focused on the Yellow Jackets bringing home the state championship. When Myles does finally sign scholarship papers, he is planning on bringing a lot to the table.

“[I’m] A very hard worker that excels at anything he sets his mind to, “said Myles.

Originally Published in April 4, 2012 Print Edition

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Justin Lucas: Next in Line

The Aberdeen Bulldogs have emerged as one of top high school programs in the state, in the past few years. They have been blessed with Division One talents Jamerson Love and, more recently, five-star defensive end Channing Ward. The expected star of next year’s Bulldog team is Justin Lucas, who mans the middle for the Bulldog defense.

The Bulldogs had a terrific season in 2011 – going 14-2. Lucas feels that the team still fell short of what he expected.

Channing Ward has really helped Lucas in his development. He discussed how much it helped, playing with Ward.

“It’s good. It frees you up to make plays. Channing was so dominant; you can’t single block him. He takes up two or three blockers. It enabled me to make plays freely,” said Lucas.

Lucas has garnered attention from a few college programs; mainly Mississippi State and Ole Miss. He attended both schools’ Junior Days. The athletic linebacker hasn’t received any offers so far – possibly because he is undersized. He plans on proving the detractors, who knock his size, wrong.

“It gives me a chip on my shoulder to work harder. They have height, but I have something better than that, though. I go 110 percent and have a motor that doesn’t stop,” said Lucas.

“I can play at the D-1 (Division One) level and I am capable of doing anything 6’1” or 6’4” linebackers can do.

He knows that there are areas he needs to work on.

“I need to work on my footwork, “40” time, and pass-rushing skills,” Lucas said.

As his recruiting interest picks up, former teammates Ward and Love have given him advice on how to deal with the process.

“They told me to watch out for other people around you. Some people are going to be like, ‘go to Mississippi State or Ole Miss’ – stuff like that. It’s your decision, at the end of the day. Do what’s best for you, “said Lucas.

Lucas, with a stellar senior season, could become a sought-after prospect, but he only has one goal: to win football games.

“I want to win State; try to win every game we play. I’m a winner, and I don’t care about stats – touchdowns, interceptions, fumbles. I just care about winning,” Lucas said.

Originally Published in the April 4, 2012 Print Edition 

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Lavontis Smith: Preparing For the Transition

The West Oktibbeha High School offense has been one of the most prolific in 1-A football, the past few years. The player that has been the driving force in their offensive attack is Lavontis Smith. He has amassed 6,900 passing yards and thrown 55 touchdowns during his prep career. Since he is only 5’9 and 170 pounds, he likely will have to transition to another position at the college level.

I caught up with Smith to discuss that transition, recruiting, and his high school career.

Smith has certainly had a stellar high school career with his offensive numbers.

“So far, my high school career has been going well. I have been playing ever since the ninth grade. I got an early start. I got better every year, with practice. I’ve been putting up bigger numbers every year. I’m enjoying myself doing what I like to do,” said Smith, on his high school career.

He has had a great high school career as a quarterback, but the talented athlete will have to switch positions at the college level. Smith discussed what he is doing to prepare to move to another position in college.

“I’m preparing myself by practicing at different positions, like cornerback and slot receiver. I don’t really want to be a quarterback, at the next level, “said Smith.

Smith has drawn interest from four schools:Mississippi State,Missouri, Ole Miss, andTennessee. He saysMississippiStateis recruiting him the hardest.

“I believe that Mississippi State is recruiting me pretty hard. I get mail from them almost every day, “Smith said.

He has developed a good relationship with Mississippi State Offensive Line Coach, John Hevesy.

“He’s a cool dude and he keeps me updated on everything, and I like that,” said Smith, talking about his relationship with Hevesy.

Smith feels there are some areas that he needs to work on. “I think I need to get better on my hitting and my coverage, “said Smith.

Smith is preparing for the college level, but he wants to have a monster senior season.  “My senior season, I can’t go for anything less than a championship. I want to take it all the way, this year. I want to have 3,500 passing yards, “Smith said.

Lavontis Smith is a name that everyone must keep an eye on during the 2013 recruiting year. He is a kid with the right mindset and could end up being a diamond in the rough.

“I’m someone that works real hard. I do whatever it takes to get the job done; I love to practice and get better. [I] just go out there and play my game.”

Jeremiah Short covers Mississippi State University football and basketball.  Follow him on Twitter, @JeremiahShort26; join his Facebook blog, Real Story Sports: J.Short’s Blog, or e-mail him, JShort@realstorypublishing.com.

Originally Published in March 14, 2012 Print Edition

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Derrick Jones: Just Wants To Go Get It

There are players every year that slip through the cracks because they were overlooked. Derrick Jones, a Eupora Eagle standout, is a player that colleges should jump on, before they regret missing on him. He put up solid numbers – 29 catches and 413 yards, along with four touchdowns, for the run-oriented Eupora attack. Jones is no slouch on the hardwood, either, averaging 18.5 points per game.

I spoke with Jones to discuss his high school career, recruitment, and college future.

Jones plays both ways for his football team, but he also plays basketball. He talked about how basketball helps him on the football field.

“We run a lot. When I play on defense, it helps me stay low. It helps a lot,” said Jones.

The two-sport star hasn’t been heavily recruited up to now, but he hopes that will change, over the coming months.

“I’m going to try to go to a lot of camps, this summer, to get my name out there,” said Jones.

“I think they will start to look at me, after I take my A.C.T. in April,” Jones said, speculating on when recruitment of him might heat up.

Jones is the type of wide receiver that can go get the ball, but he feels that he still needs to improve.

“[I need to] just go and get it [the ball]. Coach tells me, sometimes that I tend to let it come down to me. So, I should just go up and get it.”

The versatile 6’2”, 185-pound wide receiver has thought about also playing basketball at the next level.

“I thought about it. Hopefully, there are some offers, there. I really don’t know which one I want to play in college,” said Jones, speaking on playing basketball at the college level. “I believe I like football just a little bit more”.

Derrick Jones, whether he chooses football or basketball, could be a great find for any college program. They may need to jump on him before he has a big senior season; his options may be numerous at that point.

Jeremiah Short covers Mississippi State University football and basketball.  Follow him on Twitter, @JeremiahShort26; join his Facebook blog, Real Story Sports: J.Short’s Blog, or e-mail him, JShort@realstorypublishing.com.

Originally Published in March 14, 2012 Print Edition

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Ryland Flourishing In New Role

The Noxubee County High School coaching staff was looking to replace star Middle Linebacker Corey Williams, following the 2010 season. They decided to move Antonio Ryland, the team’s starting fullback, to the position. Ryland flourished in the role, helping lead the Tigers to an 11-3 record.

It wasn’t a slam dunk, though, that Ryland would become a good Middle Linebacker. He was coming off of a torn A.C.L., an injury that sometimes takes up to two years to recover from.

“It was a whole lot of work on my own time. It wasn’t no coming home, just sitting around. After I got out of football practice, I had to come home and jog. Doing physical therapy, they tell you that you have to do extra stuff. It’s up to you how fast you come back. So, I just came home and worked hard every day at it,” said Ryland, on recovering from a torn A.C.L.

The explosive linebacker was able to overcome the injury and record 84 tackles and six sacks on the season. The 84 tackles was third-best on the team.

“It’s an experience; it wasn’t anything like Fullback. I ran and kept myself up; I was coming off that A.C.L. surgery. I knew I had a tough spot to come in and fill up. I jogged every day. I came home and did weights,” said Ryland.

“I worked hard at middle linebacker because I felt that I was a Middle Linebacker more than I was a Fullback. I just listened to my coaches. They coached me up and motivated me. I have the body frame. [There are] a lot of colleges recruiting me; I’m just working hard and trying to take it serious”.

“It’s different than fullback—instead of getting hits; I am giving hits”.

Ryland has had to become one of the leaders of the defense and the team, after the move to middle linebacker.

“Coach stresses to me, every day that I need to set an example for the younger players. Whatever we do; [like] if we play around in the field house, they are going to look at us to set the example,” Ryland said, on being a leader.

The versatile linebacker hasn’t earned any offers, ye, although he is receiving interest from Missouri, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, USM, and UAB. Ryland is planning on working hard to earn an offer.

“I need to work on my speed, and I want to understand the offense better. Schools are coming in recruiting me for Fullback or Linebacker. I want to just understand my role more, “said Ryland.

Antonio Ryland will definitely be a name to watch over the next couple of months, as the recruiting process heats up – especially considering it will be his second year at Middle Linebacker. The 215-pound Linebacker feels that he has all the tools to be a Division-One football player.

“If they get me, I will represent whatever school I go to, stay out of trouble, and keep my grades up. Whatever position they put me in—I’m going to get the job done”.

Originally Published in March 7, 2012 Print Edition

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Chris Chambless: Building His Own Legacy

 The West Point Green Wave football program has a storied history in the state of Mississippi. The legacy began with legendary coach William T. “Bubba” Davis, who won three state championships in 1984, 1987, and 1988. They went nearly 15 years before the next state championship, in 2002 – coached by Dennis Allen. Allen won another one, in 2005, and then left West Point High School. Allen’s defensive coordinator, Chris Chambless, took over the program and has never looked back. He has compiled a 67-14 record at West Point (an 82.7 winning percentage) and two state championships—back to back titles in 2009 and 2010.

I had a chance to speak with Chambless and discuss his start in coaching, the pressures of coaching at a powerhouse, and his relationship with Coach Davis.

Chambless didn’t start out at West Point. He was an assistant coach at Sturgis High School for one year, before accepting a head coaching position at Caledonia High School.

“A buddy of mine, that I went to school with, coached the basketball team, and told me that the head job came open in football. I also had a chance to be an assistant baseball coach at Caledonia; I know they had a good baseball program. I wanted to see what I could do with football, when I was there. We won a couple of games and were close, in a couple of them. It was a struggling program,” said Chambless.

Chambless only spent one season at Caledonia, though, before accepting the defensive coordinator position at West Point, in 1999. He discussed leaving Caledonia after one season and how tough it was to depart.

“They were hungry to win and I had some good younger players coming up. The future was bright.  I felt like I had a good opportunity to come over here and got a chance to hire a couple of those guys, over here. One of them, Roger Burton, is off as a head coach right now, “ Chambless said.

“I knew Dennis Allen from Starkville. When he got the head job, he wanted me to come over here with him”.

He spent seven years under Allen. The Green Wave won the two aforementioned state titles. Chambless then got his chance to take over the program in 2006. He was now the head honcho. One of the toughest jobs as a head coach is dealing with personalities of players.

“That’s all coaching is about sometimes. The Jimmys and Joes. When you have good players, the only thing that is important is getting them on and off the bus,” said Chambless.

“It’s tough at a larger school. You have a lot of different personalities – players and coaches. One thing you have to realize – you can’t keep everyone happy. Once you accept that – you have to prioritize things. Keep the program first, and push academics. We are trying to do things the right way; put academics first and athletics second”.

Chambless didn’t win a state title in his first three years at West Point, but he finally broke through in 2009. He spoke about whether it was different winning a title as a head coach.

“The feeling is the same, to tell you the truth. The stress level on a coach is a little bit higher, I feel like. My stress level as a defensive coordinator wasn’t as high, because I focused on one part. I didn’t have to deal with the problems Coach Allen had to deal with. All I had to deal with was my main part and my main focus. I had to deal with the overall picture. The gratification is a little bit higher. The feeling is the same for everybody.”

The Green Wave repeated the next year—even after losing Curtis Virges and local legend Michael Carr. Chambless discussed adjusting his game plan without Carr and Virges.

“It’s all about adjusting. We’re a run physical football team and that’s what we are going to do. We might get the ball to people in different ways. Michael Carr was the receiver; we handed it off to him a whole lot. We threw a whole lot of short passes to him, and let him do something with it. The next year, we had a big physical back that we could give it to 30 or 40 times, if we needed to do it. He could run just as hard in the fourth quarter as the first quarter. You just adjust to who you have,” Chambless said.

The Green Wave had a less-than-stellar record, by their standards, last season, finishing 8-5. When coaches have a down year at a program like West Point, there will be community pressure. Chambless talked about dealing with that pressure.

“Oh I love it. I’d rather have community pressure than not have community pressure. When you’re at a place with a lot of community pressure, it’s not just on me; it’s on the players, the administration, and on everything. I love going to Wal-Mart. Everybody wants to talk about West Point football—that’s what we do. You do get disgruntled fans, but most fans are pleasant. They are behind you 100 percent. They may not agree with everything you do, but they’re on your side. I’d rather have a West Point fan on my side than anyone else,” said Chambless.

“When we went to Daytona Beach, Florida for a game, we had more fans there than the home team. That’s special and means a lot. [It] means a lot to our players as well”.

In addition to community pressure, coaches sometimes have to deal with those same people complaining about playing time for their kids.

“I’m going tell you the honest truth. Here, that isn’t a problem. I know it’s the problem at other places. We’ve had players in the past whose parents have done a lot for the program. Their kids didn’t see the field a whole lot. They know that we are going to play the guys we feel that we can win with. We don’t cut anybody—they cut themselves. We don’t have a lot of parents complaining about playing time. One thing I tell players from day one; my door is open to your mom, dad, grandma, uncle, and everybody. I tell them not to argue about playing time, that’s for the coaches to do. I’m not going to tell my assistant coach who to play,”.

The Green Wave is truly all about the team concept, but there are stars on every team that have college futures. They sometimes may need to play a position that benefits their college future better, but may not always best for their high school team.

“We’ve been fortunate to have guys that realize that our main focus here is our team. They put team first. It is spread from day one in the seventh grade. We’re big on the “no I in team” philosophy. Our guys are big on not getting jealous. Justin Cox – we knew he was going to be a defensive back in college, but we needed him at quarterback. He did that very unselfishly. Now he’s doing a great job as a safety at East Mississippi [Community College],” said Chambless.

Chambless, while dealing with all the different issues, has continued a tradition that Coaches Davis and Allen built – winning at a high level. Coach Davis is still a staple around the West Point program, although he left nearly 20 years ago.

“I talked to him, this morning. We’re in the process of trying to get a field house, academic center—things of that nature. I have always been friends with Coach Davis. I almost went to work with him, a couple of times. I knew he had been around building a couple of field houses in the past. I was talking to him about that. His presence is always felt at West Point. It doesn’t bother me one bit. We have a great relationship and he has a great relationship with the fans. It’s welcomed,” said Chambless on Coach Davis.

Davis is a legend in West Point, but Chris Chambless is well on is way to building his own legacy. He isn’t content on winning two state championships and is looking to continue the excellence of West Point football.

“We’re steadily improving. That’s out main focus everyday – to hit the weights and go outside and run. We don’t ever want to get to a spot where we are just maintaining”.

Jeremiah Short covers Mississippi State University football and basketball.  Follow him on Twitter, @JeremiahShort26; join his Facebook blog, Real Story Sports: J.Short’s Blog, or e-mail him, JShort@realstorypublishing.com.

Originally Published in February 29, 2012 Print Edition

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Columbus High School Signing Ceremony

 Columbus High School Principal Scott Hallmark and Falcon Football Head Coach Tony Stanford celebrated, with eight Falcon Seniors and their families, along with coaches and school officials, Tuesday, Feb. 1st, on the athletes’ success.

Kenny Averhart, Byerson Cockrell, and Deontae Jones signed football scholarships to play at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba; Jabari Edwards, Jamel Grant, Damian Baker, and Cedrick Jackson, accepted scholarships with Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia; and Tim Hudgins agreed to play for Northeast Mississippi Community College in Booneville.

Coach Stanford was very proud of the players, stating that this was one of the first times that more than a few students signed scholarships; and was proof that the football program was making progress.

 The Real Story Staff Report

originally Published in February 22, 2012 Print Edition

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