• John Macon Gillespie

Thoughts from the 2018 Starkville High Spring Jamboree

Pads were popping all across the state this past weekend. Spring football games provide a small feeding to our Mississippi-sized appetite for Fall football Fridays.

I was on hand for the action at Starkville high on Friday and Saturday. Over the two days 12 teams put a bow on their 2018 spring practices. The schedule:

Friday: Starkville vs. Whitehaven(TN)

Saturday: Louisville vs. Greenville, Lanier vs. Leake Central, Velma Jackson vs. Yazoo City, Murrah vs. Columbus and Canton vs. Noxubee County.

While it’s not wise to overhype the storylines that come with spring game results, I did throw out a “hot” take on Twitter Friday night that I’ll go ahead and double up on. Starkville is going to be tough to beat this season. With that, let’s get to the highlights from this past weekend’s action at SHS:

Is Starkville the 6A favorite in 2018?

There has been a quiet confidence around the Starkville program dating back to last season about rising sophomore quarterback Luke Altmyer.

On Friday night, he put on a show going 16/23 for 256 yards and a sweet touchdown toss to Rufus Harvey. Early in the game head coach Chris Jones was dialing up passes to get the offense in rhythm. They young signal caller was able to not only put the ball in spots where his receivers could catch and go, but his timing was excellent. Later in the game he began to destroy the defense with deep completions and with his ability to extend plays in the pocket and keep his eyes upfield.

In the fall Dreke Clark is going to be a key playmaker. But on Friday night Altmyer showed he has special ability, as he elevated a receiving group that was missing Cam Gardner and Cameron Hines from a season ago, plus top returner Tonorris Brookins. However, the pass catchers did look strong Friday, led by Harvey, former QB Malik Brown and former defender Atavius Jones.

The defense was, predictably, strong for the Jackets. Between Jalil Clemons, Jaylan Ware, Ryan Johnson, Myles Stone, Alexis Stallings and others, it could be one of the strongest units in Mississippi this fall.

Everything clicking for Louisville

Greenville was able to connect on some big passing plays in the second half, but all in all the Wildcats looked great on defense. It was good to see Charles Moore making plays again up front, as his potential seems as high as ever following the ACL injury that caused him to missed the 2017 season. Ashanti Cistrunk played in coverage most of the day as the Hornets offense wanted to spread the physical Louisville defense out. He was impressive running around the field, but his physicality when dropping the ball carrier was the highlight. Ty Cooper, a rising sophomore defensive end, is another name that should be noted here. He’s listed 6’5 220-pounds and looks every bit of it. He’s learning to use that size, but his potential is great. He’s a name to watch from the talented program over the next two seasons.

Randal Montgomery is running the offense now, and that unit looks to be dangerous again. Returning running back Kevon Jackson has the look of a star. Deonte Yarbrough brings a big arm, plus size and a physical nature to the quarterback position. On the outside David Haynes has excellent size, speed and ball skills and should be a big threat down the sideline and in the redzone. Dre Shumaker could be the best athlete on the offensive side, though, as he makes plays at receiver and can step in behind center and make plays from the quarterback role.

Will Noxubee County repeat..again?

Last season Armoni Clark brought life and late momentum to the Tigers season. They rode that to their fifth state championship title since 2008. In 2014 and 2015, Noxubee County went back to back. This year’s team has that same potential to earn the program’s sixth title of the last decade.

Why? Well, let’s first look at the skill players coming back. Kyziah Pruitt might be one of the best offensive playmakers in the state this fall. He can do it from the backfield, but make plays from the receiver position. He also helps all over the field on defense. Maleik Stallings made plays at receiver, but was even more solid at cornerback. Jaqualyn Smith was super impressive at running back, and Kaiyus Lewis backed him up well. Jeff Malone is a receiver on the outside that brings size, and is a plus plus redzone threat.

Most impressive about the Tigers, though, was rising junior quarterback Khris White. He was a spark plug in the backfield, extending plays in the pocket with his feet to be able to make plays with his arm downfield. Throughout the day he was poised in the pocket and delivered devastating blows through the defense downfield. He is the perfect playmaker to set the tone of the talented Tiger offense. Look for him to become a household name in North Mississippi this fall.

Don’t be surprised if..

The Lanier Bulldogs are known for their tradition on the hardwood, but don’t be surprised if they are a slam dunk - pardon the pun - on the gridiron this season.

They showed a powerful, old-school rushing attack on Saturday that was able to control the pace of the game. They backed it up with a sturdy defensive effort.

They won four games last season and made the playoffs. It’s clear they have what it takes to move beyond the first round this season.

Though they ran into the buzz saw that is Noxubee County on Saturday, it was hard not to be impressed with the Canton Tigers.

Last season they managed a 6-7 record and missed the playoffs. Though they have two QBs, which is not always better than one, they do have the makings to be a good offensive team. Don’t be surprised to see them in the 5A playoff bracket in 2018.

#JohnLukeMcCord #Starkville #NoxubeeCounty #Louisville #Canton #Lanier

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