• John Macon Gillespie

Smithey looks to lead Myrtle to new heights in first year of division play

Jeremy Smithey has served as the defensive coordinator for the Myrtle Hawks for the past three seasons and was recently promoted to the position of head coach, taking over for the departing Justin Hollis. (Photo courtesy of New Albany Gazette/Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal)

There's no way around it: building a football program is painstaking work.

The building of a football program that has taken place at Myrtle Attendance Center the last three years has been a part of a larger process towards a larger goal: an eventual state championship. In their first varsity season in 2018, a season they played as an MHSAA Independent, the Hawks went 7-1, which, if you're keeping track at home, is an all-time win percentage of .875.

Pretty solid.

Now, however, the Hawks will find themselves faced with an uptick in competition. No longer will they face teams like Hickory Flat who will not field a varsity team in 2019, but are grouped with schools like TCPS (who gave Myrtle its lone loss a season ago), Falkner, Thrasher, Biggersville and Baldwyn, all of whom are established programs with a history of playoff success. To add onto that, the Hawks recently lost their head coach Justin Hollis, who took the head principal position at Nettleton High School earlier this month.

With a change at head coach and a change in competition, how do the Hawks plan to avoid a step back in year two of varsity play?

Enter Jeremy Smithey.

Smithey had served as Hollis' defensive coordinator and right-hand man since the beginning of the Myrtle program and was a clear choice to be promoted to the head coaching position following Hollis' departure. Prior to his time at Myrtle, Smithey also served as an assistant on the cooperative Union County football program which gave birth to the East Union Urchins.

Earning this promotion to head coach has been a dream come true for Smithey who sees this position as an opportunity to affect young lives for the better.

"[It's been my dream] pretty much since I was young," Smithey said. "It's one of the reasons that I went into education. It's a great platform for teaching students about the really important things in life."

For a first-time head coach leading a new program into its first year of division play, Smithey has a strong vision for the Myrtle Hawks in 2019.

"With this group of kids, our focus will be building upon what has made us successful in the past and getting them to understand that they have to compete hard every week," Smithey said. "When it comes to division play, everyone is competing for the ultimate prize of the state championship. Everything we do has to be intentional, especially when it comes to training and practice."

Despite taking over the program during the midst of the offseason, Smithey claims that his transition to the head coaching position has been relatively smooth.

"So far it has [been smooth]," Smithey said. "I've got a great group of guys that I work with. They have made it easy for me as I figure out the ins-and-outs of the role of head coach."

For any first-time head coach, there is a learning process, and Smithey is not immune to those growing pains. One thing that Smithey hopes to become used to in this new position has to do with his perfectionism.

"I'm not always going to get it right the first time," Smithey said. "I'm a perfectionist by nature, and I have to learn that I'm never going to have the perfect practice plan or game plan."

This acceptance that mistakes are inevitable won't stop Smithey from pursuing perfection, however, both in himself and his team.

"I want to strive for perfection even though I know I'm never going to achieve it," Smithey said. "We try to teach the kids that it's okay to make a mistake as long as you make that mistake going wide-open and then learn from it. I have to be able to accept that about myself, as well."

Myrtle opens its season on Aug. 23 against another school that once featured Justin Hollis as head coach: the Vardaman Rams. Vardaman also has a first-year head coach in Brennan Pugh, meaning that one of these two are guaranteed to start their head coaching career with a win.

Follow John Macon on Twitter @JMakeSES and email him at

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