SHS coach to see former IAHS player on Tupelo sideline
Last season, Ashton Shumpert was trying to help coach Jamie Mitchell win football games at Itawamba Agricultural High School.
At Yellowjacket Stadium tonight, Mitchell and his Starkville High School coaching staff try to figure out a way to stop Shumpert.
Shumpert, now a sophomore running back for the Tupelo Golden Wave, will be in town for a key Class 6A, Region 1 encounter against the Jackets. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Tupelo enters the game with records of 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the region, while Starkville stands at 3-2 overall and 1-0 in the region.
"In my tenure and the short time I've been here, there's (not a game) bigger with any more riding on it (than Tupelo)," Mitchell said on Wednesday. "West Point was a rivalry game and Meridian was a big game, but let's be real, those games meant nothing as far as the ultimate goal of making the playoffs."
Shumpert helped Mitchell's Indians reach the postseason last season. The pair won the Class 4A, Division 1 championship and reached the semifinals of the Class 4A playoffs.
During the offseason, Shumpert and his mother moved from Fulton across Highway 78 to Tupelo so that gave the Golden Wave an immediate impact player on offense.
"It's very rare that this situation ever happens," Mitchell said about facing one of his former players at another school. "He's a very special player to me and he's one I've been able to watch play since he was very small. I knew he was going to be a very good player early on.
"After his 8th grade year, we knew that he was going to be able to help us on the high school level so we ended up moving him up last year. We had a great football team and here's a freshman able to come out and contribute. He did so in a big, big way."
Tupelo coach David Bradberry has noticed something in his first year with Shumpert that he's sure Mitchell already saw in him.
"As much as anything else, (Shumpert) is so coachable," Bradberry said. "He works hard every day and seems to really enjoy playing football. Whatever you ask him to do, he's willing to do it. That's the kind of kid you want to be around. We're excited about having him."
Shumpert has already rushed for 518 yards and 17 touchdowns in four games for the Golden Wave and Mitchell said he has the potential to get even better.
"Ashton is a phenomenal player and I've said many, many times that he's the best 9th grader I've ever coached," Mitchell said. "I've coached many, many Division I players and several guys who have played in the NFL, and I'm not saying he's better than all of them, but I'm saying at his age, he was better than any of those guys. It will be interesting to see how he progresses.
"Ashton is a very gifted runner with great balance and great vision. We'll certainly have our hands full."
The story lines for tonight's matchup don't end with Shumpert.
Mitchell spent four years as a member of the Tupelo coaching staff, while Bradberry played high school football in Oktibbeha County at Sturgis.
Those facts mixed in with the rivalry between the Jackets and Golden Wave make for an intense matchup.
"I'm very understanding of the Starkville-Tupelo rivalry," Mitchell said. "I've been in this rivalry game on the other sideline, but one thing I can tell you, I'm glad to be on the other sideline and I like our football team."
Two areas of concern for Mitchell with the Jackets are the number of penalties (23) made in the 38-16 win over DeSoto Central last week and the fact that his regulars are going on three weeks without playing 48 minutes of football.
"We had to play against West Point down to the last second, then we had the open date the next week," Mitchell said. "Last week, they played a quarter and maybe two minutes into the second quarter. That was it.
"Now we're going into the third week and you worry about the conditioning and toughness part of that."
There are some players Mitchell has been pleased with as far as consistency.
Senior quarterback Jaquez Johnson has 718 of Starkville's 1,326 yards of total offense this season. Johnson has 413 yards passing and 305 yards rushing.
Mitchell said an offensive player who has "flown under the radar as a running back" for the Jackets is senior Garrett Smith. Smith had a 30-yard touchdown run against DeSoto Central.
"You think of what he's had to go through as a senior," Mitchell said. "He went into the first game, wasn't the starter and was a backup to Preston Baker. In the first series of the game, Preston goes out (with an injury) and now he gets an opportunity.
"Garrett has been extremely good for us. He probably made the biggest play in the West Point game with the catch and run down our sideline to set up the go-ahead touchdown. He's just been so good every week. I couldn't be prouder of the way he's playing."
Mitchell also gave credit to the offensive and defensive line for its steady play, especially defensive ends David Fair and Stanley Higgins.
"David Fair is a kid that jumps out and is undersized (5-10, 190), but we don't have anyone with a motor like his," Mitchell said. "He's just extremely quick and is going to make a bunch of plays for us just because he wants to and with effort. He does a great job.
"Stanley Higgins is another young kid who is playing extremely well for us. He's just a sophomore and will be a great player here."
It's been a while since Starkville has played at home.
After the Jackets opened the season against Noxubee County on August 20 at Yellowjacket Stadium, they have played at Louisville (August 27), at Meridian (Sept. 3), at West Point (Sept. 10) and DeSoto Central (Sept. 24) with an open date mixed in (Sept. 17).
Mitchell is anxious to get back into Yellowjacket Stadium for a game and hopes a good crowd will turn out to welcome the team home.
"Thank goodness we get to come back home and play at our place," Mitchell said. "I hope and believe we will have an overflow crowd. I do think people here have gotten excited about football and I think there is a buzz in our community.
"It's hard for a lot of our folks to go to Meridian or DeSoto Central because those are long trips, but when you are home, those people get to come watch the Yellowjackets play."