It's never easy to win a State championship in any sport on the high school level.
When a team was hit with as much adversity as Starkville Yellowjackets were this year, then it's even more amazing to consider what they accomplished in claiming the Class 5A title last Saturday night.
The Jackets defeated the Pascagoula Panthers 28-11 for the State championship and coach Jamie Mitchell hasn't let the gold ball out of his sight very long since being presented with it at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.
When the team returned from Jackson in the early hours Sunday morning, Mitchell still had a bear hug on the trophy as fans wanted just a moment to touch the special piece of hardware.
Mitchell has a reason to be proud. He has surrounded himself with a good coaching staff and have developed some talented players in a short amount of time in Starkville.
"The feelings, emotions and thoughts are overwhelming and we want to take every minute of it in," Mitchell said on Monday. "We've been blessed and fortunate to be able to overcome some things and it was just a special night Saturday night."
Mitchell reflected on the trials the team faced on the way to the championship. It has been a little less than a year since player Devin Mitchell lost his life in a tragic incident after the Jackets appeared in the State title game in 2011.
Starkville started this season with a 1-3 record after losing to Noxubee County, Madison Central and West Point. During that stretch, the Jackets also had two of their most talented offensive players in quarterback Gabe Myles and running back Preston Baker suffer severe ankle injuries. Both came back in a short amount of time and showed the determination that it takes to be successful. They certainly had the heart of a champion.
Coach Mitchell experience a personal loss during the season with the passing of his mother.
Through all of that, Starkville pushed toward the ultimate prize. The Jackets won 11-straight games, including a sweep of Class 5A, Region 2 for the second year in a row.
SHS was able to get three home playoff games and it took advantage of it. After opening the postseason with a win over Saltillo, the Jackets knocked off Oxford and defeated West Point 29-28 in overtime.
Once Starkville won its second Class 5A North championship in as many years and made it back to Jackson, the chances of completing the task were pretty good.
Pascagoula was a great team. If it were not so, it wouldn't have beaten Picayune and Pearl River Central to get a chance at the State championship itself.
However, there was no denying the Jackets. They used losing the State championship last year as motivation even though they didn't always talk about it publicly.
Starkville has added to its State championship tradition that was started by coach Willis Wright in the 1980s and continued by Chuck Friend in the 90s and Bill Lee in 2001. The Jackets have now won five state titles in school history.
Before the state championship era, there were other coaches that had excellent records and claimed Little 10 titles.
When Jamie Mitchell was hired in the spring of 2010, he vowed to bring football success back to Starkville.
It has only taken him three seasons to get SHS to the top.
Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.
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