November 14, 2017 10:40:01 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Brad Butler likes to get game film as soon as possible so he can prepare the following week's plan.
Butler's penchant for staying up late on Friday nights and into Saturday mornings has something to do with the fact he lives in Columbus and doesn't want to drive home and back to Starkville Academy the next day.
The Starkville Academy defensive coordinator's approach also is predicated on attention to detail and a mentality that drives him to watch as much film as he can. Longtime coach Bubba Davis, who works with Butler to lead the Starkville Academy defense, shares that mind-set. You can call it "old school," but Butler and Davis don't know any other way. They want to see everything they can so they and their players are as prepared as possible for the next challenge.
When Butler finally examined game film of Adams County Christian Academy, Butler tried to relax. It wasn't easy. Butler saw the Rebels gash opponent after opponent with team speed and a variety of playmakers.
Through it all, Butler kept telling himself one thing.
"Only one of them could tote it at a time," Butler said. "As far as the team speed, it scared me a little bit because they were able to run the ball on everybody, but I felt like we could get a good plan and keep them corralled.
"We have speed on defense, too. I felt like anybody could handle them we could. All of the defensive guys were on the right page."
Butler's confidence came through in resounding fashion Friday night, as Starkville Academy defeated ACCS 31-0 in the semifinals of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA playoffs at J.E. Logan Field.
The victory, which was the Volunteers' third-straight by shutout, secured Starkville Academy (12-1) a place in the state title game against top-seeded Indianola Academy (13-0) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Jackson Academy.
For its accomplishment, the Starkville Academy football team's defense is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
"All 11 working as one unit and playing fast," Butler said. "If everybody knows where they belong, we can play fast. They believe in that, and I believe in them. It has worked out for us."
Hard work is all Butler knows. He has earned a reputation for being one of the state's top defensive coordinators. Butler has forged that reputation by leading the Volunteers in the weight room. Like Starkville Academy coach Chase Nicholson, who calls the plays for the offense, both coaches have developed trust with their players and an open relationship where players can ask questions and suggest plays if something isn't working. The approach sounds simple, so much so is might be complicated, until you let it sink in a moment.
"Everybody has a gap they're responsible for," Butler said. "If you're the one who is supposed to contain it, you have got to get out there and contain it, knowing your help is coming from inside out. It is all about trusting that the person beside you is going to be where he is supposed to be and I am going to be where I am supposed to be and everybody fits. It is like a glove."
The victory was the 10th in a row for the Volunteers, and third-straight shutout. Starkville Academy has six shutouts on the season and has allowed only 124 points.
Walker Tranum had a 91-yard fumble return to spark the Volunteers' defense.
Senior Noah Methvin, who plays quarterback and on the defensive line, said Tranum had been telling his teammates he was going to score a defensive touchdown.
"He has been giving us grief about it for a few weeks, but he came up on the sidelines and I have never seen someone breathing go hard," Methvin said.
Tranum might have been breathing hard, but it was highly unlikely anyone was going to catch him because he was surrounded by a convoy of Rebels. The posse leading Tranum to the end zone looked like 11 hats to the ball, which is a great way to describe the Volunteers' success.
Nicholson said the Rebels never got comfortable Friday night because the Volunteers are comfortable adjusting to stop an opponent's strengths.
"If they want to run straight at you, we're fast enough, disciplined enough, and our technique is so good on defense that what they want to do they can't do, so they have to get uncomfortable," Nicholson said. "That is where we are at an advantage."
Senior defensive lineman Kyle Faver agreed. He said he could sense ACCS was uncomfortable on offense because Starkville Academy provided a test it hadn't seen all season. Faver said the Volunteers' team speed helped them combat the multiple weapons the Rebels tried to get into space.
"I knew we had a chance because we have a really fast team, and I knew we could run with them," Faver said. "We show on film that we play hard and play fast, but until you see us in person, you don't understand how fast and how hard we play every snap. A lot of it comes down to coach Butler. He has ingrained in our head '11 African bees.' Sting them every play. We did that all night, and it worked out all night."
Faver said Starkville Academy will try to do the same things against Indianola Academy. Starkville Academy lost to Indianola Academy 35-21 on Sept. 1 in Indianola.
"This is the best time for the defense to play the best games we have," Faver said. "The last three games are the best games we have played and they are playoff games. They mean everything to us. We're just going to come out and try to do the same thing against Indianola. They beat us earlier (in the season), and the conditions on the field were not the best for us, but we're going to come out ready to play."
Butler will continue to trust his players to be in the right places and to make the plays. He said the Volunteers won't spend a lot of time worrying about what the Colonels are going to do Saturday. Butler said the focus will be on doing what Starkville Academy does to the best of its ability. That has proven to be good enough through 13 games, so Butler doesn't see any reason to change.
Butler said ACCS made adjustments during the game, but all of the moves were within Starkville Academy's scheme of what it has done this season. A crucial point was playing fast and getting multiple tacklers to the football.
"I told them this week that was one of the keys on defense. We have to swarm to the ball. We have to finish tackles," Butler said. "Those guys who have speed have been breaking tackles, too, so it was very important to get multiple people around the ball so we were able to get them to the ground."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.