STARKVILLE — Even though he admits he is a “Starkville transfer,” Jamie Mitchell knows the tradition behind Starkville High School football.
When Mitchell left Itawamba Agricultural High to come to Starkville in 2010, his goal was to re-establish Starkville football as a brand and to return the program to prominence.
On Tuesday, Mitchell concluded his latest attempt to realize those goals by bringing former Yellow Jacket and former NFL player Antuan Edwards back to the school to speak to the participants at a two-day, all-ages camp.
“When you’re bringing guys back to the program and they feel a connection to what’s going on, that’s the easiest way for us to have the momentum in the right direction,” Mitchell said. “Once a Yellow Jacket, always a Yellow Jacket.”
Edwards, a former quarterback, safety, and running back at Starkville High, helped Mitchell and Starkville High assistant coaches work drills with more than 70 players who attended the camp. The event was designed to build momentum for the future for Starkville, which advanced to the Class 5A state title game in 2011. The appearance in the championship game was Starkville’s first in a decade.
Edwards was an ideal former player to be a part of the camp. The multi-purpose standout was a part of a program that won back-to-back state football championships under coach Chuck Friend.
“This town, community, and football program means so much to me,” Edwards said. “We have to do everything we can to bring it back through the young people still here. What I remember is on the night they retired my jersey, there was around 50 people in the stands. All I kept saying was, ‘Wow, how’d it get like this?’ ”
Last year, Mitchell guided Starkville to a North State title and a trip to Jackson for the first time since it won the title in 2001. The veteran coach first met Edwards on Monday. He coached against him for four years while he was an assistant coach at Olive Branch High.
“What is so impressive about a man like Antuan is his commitment to the community,” MItchell said. “I know this because he drove all the way from his home in Texas and will turn around and drive back tonight.”
Mitchell has said repeatedly that Starkville High needs to develop its younger players and its feeder system if it is going to rebuild the program’s tradition.
“We call it a brick in the wall and it’s the first brick in the wall,” Mitchell said. “As early as we can, we’ve got to get the young kids to realize what it’s going to take to play at a high level once they’re ready to compete at the high school varsity level. Days like today are all about accomplishing that goal.”
Edwards does a lot of public speaking and community work in Dallas when he isn’t in Starkville to watch games at his alma mater.
“It’s important for me to get over here every three or four months because my dad is still here, but also because I’ve developed a lot of relationships in Starkville,” Edwards said.
At the end of the camp, Edwards spoke to the players about nearly everything except his development as a football player.
“All of these kids think they’re going to the NFL or going to go to college through football,” Edwards said. “I know because I thought that exact same thing.”
After leaving Oktibbeha County, Edwards went on to earn All-America honors as a safety in his senior year at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C.. In all, he had 219 tackles and eight interceptions in 33 games. As a senior, he was a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference performer and a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award.
The Green Bay Packers selected Edwards in the first round of the 1999 NFL draft. He went on to play 53 games at cornerback and safety for Green Bay through 2003.
“I was one of back-to-back-to-back defensive backs selected that year to stop Minnesota’s receiver Randy Moss,” Edwards said. “In my first career game, I returned an interception for a touchdown and did the Lambeau leap. Best moment of my playing career.”
Edwards bounced around the NFL after leaving Green Bay, splitting the 2004 season with the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams. He played in four games for the Atlanta Falcons in 2005, but the Washington Redskins cut him in training camp prior to the 2006 season, which ended his professional football career.
“I had to make sure that didn’t end my life,” Edwards said. “When I look at these kids and tell them to make the right choices, makes me feel young.”
Mitchell said bringing former standouts back to the program has been a goal from day he accepted the SHS job nearly two years ago. Former standout running back David Fair’s son is a linebacker with the team, while former Starkville and University of Alabama receiver Freddie Milons is a volunteer assistant football coach.
“It’s the smartest move you can make,” Mitchell said. “I’ve only been a Starkville native for two years, but I want everybody that put that jersey on and walked those halls to feel welcome.”