Chase Nicholson isn’t a big fan of jewelery, even a ring it took more than four months to earn.
That’s why Nicholson left the championship ring he received for the Starkville Academy football team’s 2017 Mississippi Association of Independent School (MAIS) Class AAA title on the table next to his bed for the school’s annual media day July 10. As Nicholson watched band members, cheerleaders, and student-athletes get their pictures taken, he said he couldn’t recall the last time he wore the ring. After thinking for a moment, he guessed February was the last time he had the ring on his finger.
“It’s not in the past, but it’s in the past,” Nicholson said. “I am not ignoring it, but wearing it around doesn’t help me win the next year, and it is not going to help me type better on the computer, and it certainly is not going to make me any better of a football coach.”
Nicholson acknowledged there will be times he breaks the ring out. Monday might be one of those days, as Starkville Academy and the rest of the MAIS schools officially kick off practice for the 2018 season. Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) schools will begin practice next week.
Starkville Academy earned the school’s seventh state championship with a 21-14 overtime victory against Indianola Academy on Nov. 19, 2017, at Jackson Academy. A rousing rally from a 14-7 halftime deficit capped a 13-1 season and sent 14 seniors out as champions.
The Volunteers didn’t have any dazzling performers. Instead, Starkville Academy relied on 11 players doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. The Volunteers excelled because all 11 were solid, trusted each other, and didn’t care who had the most tackles or scored the most touchdowns.
Noah Methvin, who split time at quarterback with Ben Owens, summed it up best when he said the Volunteers kept “pounding and pounding.” Starkville Academy finally broke through against Indianola Academy thanks to turnovers and then capitalized. A stellar effort by coach Brad Butler’s defense punctuated a championship evening.
“They played great defense,” Nicholson said. “The defense played like we expected. You don’t win championships without defense. We believe that. We have known that since day one. That is what we have practiced on. If coach Butler wants something, he gets it because we believe in defense. They played lights out.”
Nicholson isn’t sure what makeup the 2018 squad will have. He said the Volunteers will remember the path they took to get to the 2017 state title game, but he knows the journey this year’s team will take will be different. It will have to be because different players will be in new roles. Different personalities will have to come together. The Volunteers also will have to avoid injuries if they want to have a shot to win another championship.
As much as things will change in 2018, Nicholson will do his best to stay the same. The former assistant coach to Jeff Terrill turned head coach prides himself on his ability to relate to the players. He is honest. He doesn’t hold anything back.
Nicholson also is quirky. He isn’t afraid to show his emotions or to get his players fired up for a big game. That’s why the 2017 championship ring might not be stashed in the box forever. Nicholson might find the right time to break it out to make a point or to motivate his players. He also might want to wear it so he can remember the feeling of a championship team coming together and overcoming everything in its path.
“I am not satisfied with one,” Nicholson said. “Each one is going to be special because of the journey with these guys.”
Nicholson said the 2018 team has leaders. Their names won’t be Methvin or Faver or Richardson or Smith or Wolfe, but Nicholson said the Volunteers aren’t going to think about what they lost. Instead, it always has been about what Starkville Academy can do to make the most out of its weapons. It remains to be seen what Starkville Academy will look like at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17, when it takes on Lamar School in its season opener in Meridian. Rest assured, though, the Volunteers will be prepared, conditioned, and ready to wear the bull’s eyes that will be on their backs.
“We are not asking them to be anybody but themselves,” Nicholson said. “We don’t want them to be anybody but themselves. I have told Garrett Lewis that. I said, ‘Don’t be Noah Methvin. Don’t be Ben Owens. Be Garrett Lewis. I am not going to coach you like Noah Methvin or Ben Owens. I am going to coach you like a Glew (Lewis’ nickname), a guy who wears a headband with sweet potatoes on it, or whatever it was to practice that day.
“That is the mentality. We had great leadership the year before and the year before and the year before and the year before, but this is this year, so we have new leaders. They will be great leaders, but how will they do it is the question I asked them the other day. It is the question I can’t wait to see.”
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.