There’s a positive vibe surrounding Starkville High School this season.
The Jackets found themselves on a thrilling — but a bit surprising — 9-1 regular season run in 2021, led by a prolific offense. What seemed like it could be a bit of an experience season for a young team soon spawned championship aspirations as then sophomore quarterback Trey Petty emerged and fast-tracked the project.
A blowout win over Hernando in the first round of the playoffs, followed by a 42-27 win over Southaven in the second round, set up the Jackets with a rematch against Madison Central for a spot in the state championship. The Tigers, however had other plans, avenging their loss in Starkville earlier that season with a strong defensive showing in a 35-13 win.
“Last year we were a bit inexperienced, but you only get better with failure and mistakes.” Starkville head coach Chris Jones said.
Jones had no problem putting 2021 in perspective despite the tough loss and believes the experience was valuable for his team as they continue to develop and grow.
“We made some mistakes last year that to me were due to being young, but that’s part of the process of getting better on both sides of the ball,” he said. “I think experience itself will help eliminate a lot of mistakes, but we’ve seen throughout the course of the spring and summer that we’re a lot better than we were last year just by knowing how to line up and what to do. There’s a way to play the game the right way, and we got a lot of kids playing the right way because of the experience they gained last year as sophomores and juniors. I think it’s going to pay off for us this year.”
The 2015 season was the last time the Jackets won the championship. They reached the state semifinals in 2019 and 2021 and lost in the championship game in 2017. If they want to get back to the top in 2022, they’ll have to take on some of the best to do it. They will face each of the last 6A champions in Madison Central and Oxford, as well as 5A contenders West Point and 4A contenders Louisville. It’s a tough ask to take it all, let alone go undefeated, but the confidence and talent is there, and both senior defensive end Jonathan David Methvin and junior quarterback Trey Petty have their sights set on glory.
“In my opinion, we should be winning every year,” Methvin said. “That’s just the culture here. We haven’t won one in way too long, and every year it’s a culture of fighting for a championship. We’ve gotten pretty far every year I’ve been here, but I think this is going to be the year we win it.”
“I want to win it all: 15-0,” Petty added, buying into the narrative that the Jackets should be considered contenders. “I think we can do it. We’ve got the guys to do it, more experience on defense, and the same guys on offense, so I feel like we can do it. I feel like the defense is playing with more aggression, they’re hungrier this year. To be honest, sometimes in practice I don’t even have time to throw the ball. They’re playing like dogs this year, and I like it. That gives me more chances to score with the ball.”
There was a lot of focus on improving the defense after some hiccups last year, but both sides of the ball were led by young players last season who come into the 2022 season with valuable experience and leadership.
That’s important given the massive expectations Starkville’s players themselves have for their team. There is an awareness in the building and on the field that they play for one of the most storied football programs in Mississippi, and they want to live up to that. There’s also an awareness of the skill around them for players who have known each other most of their lives.
“It’s like a bond,” wide receiver Braylon “Stonka” Burnside said. “I’ve been playing with these guys since I was about 8 years old, and it feels the same. Same people, same place, and it’s great playing with them. I think if we do our job, I think we should be good this season.”
“It’s bigger than me; it’s the culture here,” Jones said when asked about the winning mentality present in the team and the tradition that fuels the program. This is one of the winningest programs in Mississippi high school history, so it’s just in the DNA to invest in sports in general. These kids have grown up wanting to be great, wanting to win, and I think they’re used to seeing it because they’ve seen it from their uncles or their dads. They know this is their opportunity to cash in on carrying the tradition set before them, and even before me.”
The narrative could be championship or bust this season for the Jackets, but the mindset now and every season before is the same, simple and direct: win.
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