It”s finally here, and it just so happens it will be played on an even bigger stage.
Six area teams will participate today in the second annual New Hope Jamboree at Mississippi State”s Davis Wade Stadium.
Two-time defending Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A champion West Point will kick off the event at 11 a.m. with a game against Louisville. Aberdeen will take on Morton at 1 p.m., followed by McComb vs. Starkville at 3 p.m., Noxubee County vs. Columbus at 5 p.m., and New Hope vs. Philadelphia at 7 p.m.
All games will feature two quarters of varsity action. Tickets for the day are $5.
New Hope coach Michael Bradley is like all of the coaches in that he is anxious to see his team hit someone in a different color jersey. He also is appreciative of MSU and all of the individuals in the New Hope community who have pitched in.
“This is a massive undertaking,” Bradley said. “It takes a lot of people to get it done, and New Hope is a good community. A lot of people have been willing to step up and help.”
Bradley”s team lost 18 seniors from last season, so his team will have a decidedly different look. E.J. Jenkins will take over at quarterback, while Jameel Johnson and Darius Petty will take over for Terrence Dentry, Johnny Beamon, and Franklin Richardson Jr. at the skill positions.
“(The team) has worked hard this week,” Bradley said. “The heat hasn”t been as severe this week as last. It still has been hot and they have been pushing through it the best they can.”
Bradley feels the Trojans have improved this week, but he won”t know until about 9 p.m. Saturday how much his team his grown. He enters tonight”s jamboree hoping to see his offensive line and his secondary play well. Both areas, he said, will be key to the team”s success this season.
“The thing I have been most impressed with is their eagerness to come out on the field and learn and push through it and know it is a process and that we have to work at it to get better,” Bradley said.
Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell echoed those thoughts. His team also suffered key losses to graduation and to transfer, which is why he hopes plenty of players seize the opportunity to make an impression.
“I think the effort has been the thing I have been most impressed with,” Mitchell said. “That comes from being in the second year here and how we demand things and it takes time to get to the work level where we want to have it.”
Starkville started strongly last season, but a series of close losses, including a two-point loss to Columbus in the final game of the regular season, kept it from advancing to the playoffs. Mitchell said the maturation of his team”s attitude is a work in progress that will take time but will be corrected.
Tyrone Shorter”s Noxubee County Tigers will take on Starkville on Friday in the season opener for both teams. Each coach likely will be watching to pick up anything that will give them an advantage.
Judging from Shorter”s comments Friday, Mitchell could see an offense that already is clicking.
“I have been impressed with our offense,” Shorter said. “Our offensive line is coming along and we feel really, really good about our offense. We still have holes to fill on defense. We lost three key defensive players, so we still are trying to fix those holes. (Today) will be a good test.”
Shorter said junior wide receiver and senior defensive lineman/running back Dequalo Martin won”t play today.
“We feel good. We feel like we”re ready to play,” Shorter said. “We know Columbus is a good football team and that they will give us a good test.”
Shorter expects Antonio Ryland to step in and replace linebacker Corey Williams, who is now at East Mississippi Community College. He hopes Jeremy Hunt will step in at linebacker and that Anthony Skinner will fill a vacancy on the offensive line, most likely at nose guard. Ryland also will see action at fullback.
West Point coach Chris Chambless also will have plenty of questions to answer. Like the other coaches, he likes how his team has prepared this week and how it has overcome the heat and the bumps and bruises typical of this time of the year.
“I like our focus and our hard work that we have put in at this point,” Chambless said. “We”re going to see how it all pays off and see how we get paid back.”
Chambless said the Green Wave, who will play host to two-time defending MHSAA Class 6A champion South Panola at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 20, are getting better every day and are ready to work on situations only a game or jamboree can provide a true indication of progress.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.