STARKVILLE — After a resurgent season under first-year coach Jamie Mitchell, Starkville High School followed Wednesday with a banner signing class.
Headlined by defensive end Chris Prater signing with Louisiana-Lafayette, the Yellow Jackets had seven players sign college scholarships.
Prater is Starkville first Football Bowl Subdivision signee in five years, and Starkville”s recruiting class is the largest in six years.
Tight end Martavious Foster signed with Tennessee State, while quarterback Jaquez Johnson, offensive lineman Jarred Atterberry, and linebacker DJ Jordan signed with East Mississippi Community College. Running back Garrett Smith signed with Northeast C.C., and linebacker Prinston Henderson signed with William Penn University.
“Hopefully we”ll have that many every year. That”d be a great thing,” Mitchell said. “I meant what I said to these parents, athletically they can all play but these are seven of the highest-character kids I have ever coached. They are tremendous in academics, and I can”t say enough about how good people they are. Good people make good players, and they”re gonna do great wherever they”re heading.”
Prater, who had 25 tackles this season, excelled at offensive tackle and defensive end. He likely will redshirt his freshman season but looks forward to fighting for playing time.
A three-year starter, Prater worked through two down seasons before SHS broke out with a 5-6 record in 2010. The Yellow Jackets lost five games by a touchdown or less.
Though he”s walking into a rebuilding program with a new head coach Mark Hudspeth at ULL, which went 3-9 last season, Prater said he doesn”t feel that way.
“I feel like a Division I player,” Prater said. “I”m going to be competing against Division I players, and if I”m going to do my best I have to have the mind-set of playing on that level.”
Prater is honored to end Starkville”s FBS signee drought.
“I can”t say I feel that much more important because we”re gonna have a lot more dudes doing the same thing in the up and coming year,” Prater said. “It feels good to start it.”
Foster will play tight end and possibly at defensive end at TSU, which had also offered Prater. He”s excited to play in a pro-style offense that utilizes multiple tight end packages.
“I just look to go in and make an impact any way I can,” Foster said. “However I can contribute to the team, whether it”s playing tight end or lining up at defensive end.”
Atterberry hopes to drop about 20 pounds to compete for a starting guard or center job at EMCC.
Atterberry was a three-year starter on both lines at SHS and looks forward to helping Buddy Stephens” Lions rebound from a 5-5 record last season. The Lions ended the 2008 and ”09 seasons nationally ranked, and won the state title in ”09.
“I”m going down there to do wonders,” Atterberry said. “I wouldn”t sign unless I think we can win state.”
Jordan turned down offers from Alcorn State and Arkansas-Monticello to improve his four-year stock at EMCC. He had 88 tackles and two fumble recoveries this season.
At Scooba, Atterberry will block for quarterback Jaquez Johnson, who had shoulder surgery in December.
Johnson said his shoulder is about “60 to 65 percent” healed, and he”ll begin throwing March 9. He plans to play baseball, but will play mostly as a designated hitter.
After posting 31 touchdowns his senior season, Johnson is ready to operate EMCC”s pass-happy offense.
“I”m expecting to throw the ball 40, 45 times a game,” Johnson said. “That”s what I want going into a season after surgery. A lot of colleges don”t know if I”m gonna be able to throw, so I think if I go down there I can prove myself. That”s a quarterback”s dream, to go and throw the ball every play.”
Mitchell is disappointed Johnson”s recruiting stock fell because of torn labrum he suffered against Southaven this season. Mitchell said Arkansas State, Alabama-Birmingham, and Louisiana-Monroe were recruiting Johnson, but the shoulder surgery scared them away.
“East Mississippi is a winner in that situation,” Mitchell said.
Three of Starkville”s signees are heading out of state. Henderson is making the longest trek to William Penn, a NAIA school in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Henderson, a 5-foot-10 linebacker missed most of this season working his way back from meniscus surgery and immediately jumped on William Penn”s offer.
“When I heard they wanted to talk to me I felt pretty good,” Henderson said. “The season was real tough for me. I think I played in maybe four, three games, and out of those I didn”t do good, so to get a scholarship based off your junior year, that”s pretty good.”