For Starkville Academy last year is in the past and it’s time to move on.
The Volunteers bring back 14 starters from a championship squad and are favorites to repeat as MAIS Class AAA state champions.
“Last year was awesome, but we want more,” said Starkville Academy coach Chase Nicholson. “Our road to get back to the state championship is going to be difficult just because we’re defending state champs, and everyone will give us their best every Friday night. We better be prepared.”
Starkville Academy returns five starters on the offensive side that’ll once again be led by a fierce running game, led by running back Taylor Arnold.
Garrett Lewis will take over as full-time starting quarterback after splitting time last year with Ben Owens.
“With Taylor back along with three offensive linemen, we are going to do what we do and that’s run the ball,” Nicholson said. “As far as depth, we have guys that have a lot of game experience, but not many have been in key moments of the game. That’s a concern.”
Defense is what the Volunteers are built around.
With nine starters back, Starkville Academy should be even better than last year’s bunch that only gave up 9.9 points per game.
Linebacker Willie Latham — along with defensive linemen Conner McLaughlin, Zach Nason and Jacob Linley — are back to anchor the front seven.
Taylor Ray, Nathan Pollen and Arnold are back to anchor the secondary.
“The exciting thing about our defense is we got a lot of our playmakers back,” Nicholson said. “We have to establish depth and get guys some experience. Our region is going to be tough this year with Heritage and Leake. I feel like AAA is wide open.”
NEXT IN LINE
Indianola Academy: The Colonels have played for the Class AAA state championship each of the last three years and are hoping to make it four in a row. They fell in overtime in a heartbreaker last year. Indianola has five starters back on offense led by quarterback Will Davis but must replace Sebastian Harris at running back and T.K. Bolden at wide receiver. Dede Willis and Woods Toler will split time at running back this year. Defense is going to be the strength of the team with six starters back led by linebacker Stefon Smith.
Adams County Christian: The Rebels are still trying to get over the hump and will once again will be aiming for another deep playoff run. However, ACCS will be going through some growing pains. Offensively the Rebels have just three starters back which are all on the offensive line. With Trinity Episcopal closed, Sterling Yarbrough will be the starting quarterback and top wide receiver Jakarius Caston is also coming over. D.J. Stamply will be the running back. The Rebels only have three starters back on a defense that’ll be led by promising defensive back Kmari Clark.
Heritage Academy: Patriots are aiming to make another deep playoff run after reaching the semifinals of the Class AAA playoffs last year. Carter Putt will be the quarterback and will have several weapons to spread the ball around at wideout in Moak Griffin, J.R. Lott and Jared Long. Ole Miss commit and offensive lineman Eli Acker will help lead the offense. Defense will be led by linebackers Toby Young and Parker Ray.
Cathedral: The Green Wave have enough firepower back on offense to make some noise in 2018. J.T. Taylor is back at quarterback along with top running backs in Bryson Moore and Tyriek Lee. Taylor has a chance to have a big season under center. Wide receiver Ty Bertelsen returns to lead the offense. The front seven will be strength on defense led by defensive linemen Jones Richardson, Ethan Huff, J.D. Frasier and Lee; along with linebackers Parker Murray, Landon Lees, Moore and Kendall Washington.
Other teams to watch are Leake Academy, Central Hinds, Silliman (La.), Bowling Green (La.) and Riverfield (La.)
- Starkville Academy
- Indianola Academy
- Adams County Christian
- Heritage Academy
GAMES TO WATCH
Aug. 31: Indianola Academy at Starkville Academy
Sept. 21: Riverfield (La.) at Central Hinds
Sept. 28: Heritage Academy at Leake Academy
Oct. 5: Adams Christian at Bowling Green (La.)
Oct. 12: Adams Christian at Cathedral
Oct. 12: Heritage Academy at Starkville Academy
Oct. 19: Cathedral at Silliman (La.)