Starkville head coach Chris Jones has had a really good feeling during the strange 2020 offseason due to Covid-19.
“I really like the make-up of this team,” he said.
The Yellowjackets enter the season as the team to beat in Class 6A in a season that might not have a heavy favorite.
Starkville has just four starters on both sides of the ball but will have three key returners back from last year’s team that went 12-3 and reached the Class 6A North State Championship game.
Offensively the Yellowjackets have quarterback and Florida State commit Luke Altmyer who threw for 3,093 yards with 37 touchdowns last year. He is a huge talent.
Also returning is running back and Mississippi State commit Amariyon Howard, who had 833 yards with six touchdowns in 2019.
Jordan Mitchell (358 yards rushing, three touchdowns) will also see time at running back.
Starkville has two starters returning on the offensive line, but the Jackets will not have the big-play threat at receiver with their top three receivers all graduating.
Defensively the Jackets will lean heavily on the front seven and especially at linebacker.
Keyshawn Lawrence (92 tackles, 8 sacks) and Ahmir Taylor (77 tackles, 6 sacks) return at linebacker along with defensive tackle Jacorius Hendricks and defensive end Ronnie Randle to lead the front seven. The secondary might be a concern early with several new faces.
NEXT IN LINE
South Panola: The Tigers are steadily returning to championship form. South Panola reached the second round of the playoffs in 2019, finishing 12-2, and are eager to go further in 2020. The Tigers return four starters on offense including quarterback Anterrio Draper (1,964 yards, 25 touchdowns in 2019). Cameron Wright (592 yards, 9 touchdowns) is one of the state’s top returning wide receivers. The big departure was Janari Dean at running back and the loss of four offensive lineman. Martez Clark will be the running back after rushing for 693 yards with four touchdowns and also had six receiving touchdowns. Defensively the Tigers return six starters, including the entire defensive line anchored by junior defensive end Tymdarreus Taylor. Defensive backs Anterrius Howard and Marquavious Harris return to anchor the secondary.
Oak Grove: Will the third time be the charm for the Warriors to win that state championship trophy after being the runner-up the last two years? We shall see but Oak Grove will work in new faces at the skill positions. Kade Barnett will be the new starting quarterback where the Warrios have enjoyed a ton of success. He’ll have playmakers to spread the ball around to in running back Eugene Newell and wide receiver Jordan Coleman (500 yards receiving, 7 touchdowns). The offensive line will have four starters back to help boost the running game. Defensively is where the Warriors took a hit as they lost the entire defensive line and linebackers to graduation, so there will be new faces in the front seven. Strong safety Quintin Sterling and defensive back Dontavious Howard will lead the secondary.
Madison Central: Madison Central had played in four consecutive North State Championships games but last year they were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by Olive Branch. They finished 9-3 but are primed for another deep playoff run. Offensively the Jaguars will break in a new quarterback but will have some key players around. Duke Arnold returns at running back after rushing for 686 yards with six touchdowns. Tight end Blake Gunter (three touchdowns in 2019) is a future SEC target in the passing game. A key concern will be the receiving position. Defense is where the Jaguars will lean on early with nine starters back from a dominant defense. The front seven will be the strength especially at the linebacker position led by the Perryman twins in Joseph and Josiah. Defensive lineman C.J. Barney also returns. Defensive back Greg Hollins along with Arnold and Creek Robertson at safety are back to anchor the secondary.
Oxford: The defending Class 6A state champions had a very strong senior class last season that the Chargers to a 14-1 record and their first state championship in school history. Can they make another run? To do it the Chargers may have some growing pains with just five starters total returning. Four of those starters return on offense, all being offensive linemen. Running back is Omar Howell is back after running for 360 yards rushing with a touchdown last season. Oxford will be breaking in a new quarterback but expect wide receiver D.K. Johnson (383 yards receivers, 3 touchdowns in 2019) to have a big season. Defensively, the Chargers only return just one starter, but several players saw snaps on the defensive line that’ll be led by defensive ends Connor Bradley and Jamarri Sims. Sophomore linebacker Keegan Wilfawn is somebody to keep an eye on. Strong safety Tristan Shorter (84 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 interception) is the only starter returning to help lead a youthful secondary.
Warren Central: The Vikings have had to scratch and claw to reach the playoffs each of the last two seasons as the fourth seed out of rugged Region 2-6A. This year it will be no different for Warren Central, but the Vikings are poised to get past the first round after finishing 6-6 in 2019. Warren Central returns six starters on offense that will be led by a rushing attack that averaged 127 yards per game in 2019. Kentrick Thompson (573 yards rushing, 3 touchdowns) and Antonio Thomas (270 yards, 2 touchdowns) return to lead the ground game along with three returning offensive lineman. The Vikings will have a new quarterback but tight end Quentin Pollard, who missed most of last year due to an injury, will return and will be a potent weapon in the passing game. With seven starters back on defense the Vikings will once again be stingy on that side of the ball. Linebackers Darius Smothers (93 tackles) and Taylen Smith (50 tackles, 6 sacks) are solid. The secondary should be set with defensive backs Tevin Bell and Jaylin Thompson along with free safety Jason Williams (3 interceptions).
Tupelo: The Golden Wave will break in the Ty Hardin era as Hardin takes over the program from Trent Hammond who resigned after seven seasons back in April. Tupelo is coming off a 7-5 season in 2019 and reached the first round of the playoffs. Quarterback Jake Weir returns after throwing for 2,257 yards with 20 touchdowns last season and will have Corbin Huggins as the top receiver. Jarius McGinister is back at running back to help lead the offense. Defense is where the Golden Wave will lean on with Dalton Hughes, Quay Edwards, Jaden Cox and Justin Wilson returning at linebacker.
Petal: Never count out the Panthers, who finished 12-2 and reached the 6A South State title game. Petal returns five starters on offense but will feature a new quarterback and a new running back. The Panthers have a plethora of receivers to get the ball to in Jonathan Harris, Micah Cherry and Jeremiah Robinson. Defense is where the Panthers will experience some growing pains with only three starters returning. Free safety Dariain Washington (six sacks) along with Cherry and Robinson at defensive back are the starters returning in the secondary.
MHSAA 6A TOP 5
- South Panola
- Madison Central
- Oak Grove
- Warren Central
GAMES TO WATCH
Sept. 25: Starkville at South Panola
Oct. 2: Oak Grove at Petal
Oct. 9: Madison Central at Warren Central
Oct. 16: Starkville at Madison Central
Oct. 16: Horn Lake at Oxford
Oct. 23: Madison Central at South Panola
Oct. 23: Olive Branch at Oxford
Oct. 23: D’Iberville at Gulfport