STARKVILLE — For the Starkville Academy football program, there is quite simply nothing going on this week.
That does not mean the Volunteers feel complacent after playing for the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, Division II state championship last season. Instead, Starkville Academy is taking the MAIS mandated week off this week.
The association requires all member schools to give all of its student-athletes a week off from its particular sport sometime during the summer. The Volunteers will get back after it Wednesday.
First-year coach Chase Nicholson expects the positive vibes of his program to continue.
“We had a really good spring,” Nicholson said. “The kids came out anxious and came out ready to learn. They wanted to see what was going to be different. Every day to them was a new day. They came anxious and excited. We didn’t do anything majorly different. At the same time, the kids were learning how to do some things in a different way.
“It was refreshing to see the attitude. Even though the machine keeps going. There is still something that is a little new.”
Nicholson was promoted to the head position in December, after serving six seasons as an assistant with the Volunteers. The final five seasons he worked under Jeff Terrill, who retired in December after 35 years of coaching. Nicholson was offensive coordinator on last season’s 11-2 team.
Nicholson has made minor changes to the program but also understands the success that Terrill created. After going winless in 2009, the Volunteers played in two state championship games in Terrill’s five seasons.
“The positive attitude carried over to the summer,” Nicholson said. “It is the same old summer but yet it’s not. The kids went into it knowing that I am the same old person but some things are different. We have been running obstacle courses. The kids have been covering kickoffs for conditioning.
“The kids have brought a lot of enthusiasm. Attendance has been great. There have been many who haven’t missed a whole lot. When they have (missed), they have communicated that to the coaches very well and worked with us.”
Starkville Academy lost 17 seniors off a 33-man roster from a season ago. What this season’s senior class lacks in depth, it has made up with leadership.
“The seniors have been leaders already,” Nicholson said. “They have done what you want. They have stepped into their roles as leaders. Even some of the new guys have emerged and quickly become some of the leaders.”
While Nicholson will be looking at some new faces on the sidelines, he is thrilled to be looking at some veteran faces on his coaching staff.
Nicholson will be assisted by Tony Stanford, Bubba Davis and Brad Butler. Butler came to Starkville Academy under Terrill after a three-year stint as head coach at Heritage Academy. Stanford comes to Starkville Academy after one season as head coach at Oak Hill Academy and 38 years of coaching overall. Davis returns to the Golden Triangle after a three-decade coaching career spanning multiple states.
“A wise man once said the Lord takes care of those who can’t take care of themselves and obviously he has taken care of me,” Nicholson said. “Coach Butler has been here. He is amazing. There are so many things that I ask him about. He keeps me on my toes and makes sure that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.
“Then hiring Coach Stanford was huge because he brings so much knowledge and experience of not just the game but kids in general. With Coach Davis, you have another legend in his own right. He gives us that one more great defensive mind that we really needed.”
Stanford was an assistant to Davis for two seasons at Columbus High before taking over for four seasons as head coach of the Falcons. Their working relationship led Nicholson to call Davis to ask about Stanford.
The phone call worked out quite nicely as it led to the hiring of both men.
“Sometimes, you have to have some blind luck in this game,” Nicholson said. “I wanted to know a little more about Coach Stanford and Coach Davis wanted to know if we might have something become available. We got lucky, very lucky.”
Brooks Roberts will be working with the running backs as he serves as the school’s college assistant this season.
Not only has the coaching staff taken on a new look, so has the division. Under MAIS realignment, Starkville Academy will now compete in the four-team MAIS Class AAA, District 2. The district includes former district rival Heritage Academy, as well as longtime rival Winston Academy and Leake Academy.
“It is different but the same time it is very familiar,” Nicholson said. “Heritage is a common opponent because they have been in our district. We have played Winston on a regular basis. We didn’t play Leake this past year but did play them as recently as two years ago. We played them for several years before that.
“It’s not the unknown but it is a different look. The excitement is that Winston is now a conference rival in addition to being a neighboring rival. It will be a fun new district. It won’t be easier but it will be different. We still play a challenging non-conference schedule with a lot of the old teams still on that part of the schedule.”
Starkville Academy will open the season Aug. 21 when Marshall Academy comes to J.E. Logan Field. The final three games of a 10-game schedule will include district rivals Heritage Academy (away), Leake Academy (home) and Winston Academy (away).
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.