SHS sophomore running back Jaquez Horsley (28) leads the team in rushing through five games. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
Starkville High School sophomore running back Jaquez Horsley has found the secret to getting playing time and succeeding on the varsity level.
Actually, there's no trick to it when hard work is involved.
Horsley has put in the necessary work in practice and has emerged as the top rusher for the Yellowjackets through five games this season.
"I knew I could do it," Horsley said. "Hard work every day in practice pays off."
Horsley leads the team in carries with 42, rushing yards with 194 and rushing touchdowns with four.
SHS head football coach Jamie Mitchell said it's not hard to find a place for someone with the work ethic that Horsley exhibits in practice.
"The first thing that jumps out at you is how hard he works," Mitchell said.
Whether it's on the junior varsity or junior high level, Mitchell looks for players that contribute on varsity.
It didn't take long for Mitchell to find out that Horsley was something special while observing last year's 9th grade team.
"I really thought he was the best player in that league last year and that's saying a lot because that's a very talented 9th grade league we play in," Mitchell said. "He's got all the tools. He needs a little bit more speed, but I think he'll get that as he gets older. He is a very gifted running back."
Horsley had gotten some opportunities early in the season to carry the football, but when senior Preston Baker went down against West Point with an ankle injury, it allowed Horsley to display his skills more for the Jackets.
In last week's 48-0 Class 5A, Region 2, District 6 victory over Lanier, Horsley scored three rushing touchdowns.
"It's all about competing," Horsley said. "With the injury to Baker, one man goes down and another man steps up."
SHS offensive coordinator Preston Leathers coached Horsley in the 9th grade, so he got an up-close look at Horsley before most did.
"He has things you can't coach as far as vision and cutting ability," Leathers said. "With some injuries, it got him to playing probably earlier than he or us thought he was going to, but it's been a pleasant surprise and we're very happy to have him for sure."
Leathers said Horsley showed his toughness one particular day in practice.
"He never gets rattled," Leathers said. "It was about a week ago Johnny Smith hit him in practice and probably most players on the team wouldn't have gotten back up, but he did and got right back in there."
Horsley was primarily a quarterback for the 9th grade squad, but he showed his ability to run the football at that position.
With Gabe Myles and Caleb Wilson as the two main signal callers for the offense, Mitchell said the decision was easy to put Horsley at running back.
"Caleb played center in junior high and 8th grade ball, so we moved Caleb to quarterback and no question he's the right guy at quarterback," Mitchell said. "Horsley is a true tailback, so we feel really good about where he is. We're glad to have him."
Horsley has the vision to help the Jackets win the division and get back to the state championship game, where they were last season.
"That's the dream and we hope to make it come true," Horsley said. "This is the best team to play for. The best coach (Mitchell) I could ask for and all of the coaches. This is a great team - the Starkville Yellowjackets."
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