Starkville High School football coach Jamie Mitchell, right, has a conversation with an official last season. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
The Starkville Yellowjackets have seen progress in the last three football seasons with Jamie Mitchell as coach.
After finishing with a 5-6 record and missing the playoffs in Mitchell's first season, the Jackets went 12-3 and lost to Picayune in the Class 5A State title game, then SHS completed the deal with a 28-11 victory over Pascagoula to bring the State title home.
The two-year run that saw the Jackets combine for a 24-6 record has led to Mitchell being recognized as The Starkville Daily News Area Coach of the Year for the second-straight season.
As much as winning the State championship was satisfying for Mitchell, he's amazed at what's happened the last two years combined.
"It's not just the State championship, but playing for it last year," Mitchell said. "We've been to Jackson two consecutive years and that's unheard of. Some of the people that I look up to in this profession have never even been to Jackson. Here we have been twice and won it once. People have no idea how hard it is to win a playoff game much less win a North half championship and on top of that win a State championship. It's next to impossible when you think about what has to happen."
Starkville saw its share of adversity. The untimely death of Devin Mitchell in a Jan. 1 shooting accident, early injuries to players Gabe Myles and Preston Baker and a 1-3 start.
Coach Mitchell even experienced personal loss with the death of his mother.
Through it all, the Jackets still found a way to claim the Class 5A crown.
"It's amazing to think back to how many negatives things were attached along the way," Mitchell said. "These kids just had so much resolve about them. No matter what we faced, it seemed they found a way to go around it and weren't going to be denied the ultimately prize and that ultimate prize is (the State championship trophy)."
Mitchell credits his players, coaching staff and the support received from administration as key for experiencing success.
"I always say that I have the best coaches around," Mitchell said. "The offensive staff and defensive staff - people don't have any concept of the hours that these guys put in. They are away from their families and it's endless. It's seven days a week and a taxing job. What we did (on Dec. 1) speaks for itself as far as the players are concerned, they were tremendously committed.
"(SHS athletic director) Dr. (Stan) Miller and (principal) Mr. (Keith) Fennell have been very supportive of everything we wanted to do. That's what it takes. If you are going to win a state championship, it goes well beyond head coach or players. It's got to start from the ground up."
Miller said that Mitchell has helped achieve the dream of getting the program turned around.
"When we had the opportunity to bring coach Mitchell here, it's amazing what we've done in three years," Miller said. "The leadership he's brought and the love he has brought to these kids and this community is just outstanding. I'm hoping he's here for many years to come. I know a lot of people would love to have him at this point and time, but Jamie and I have talked and he's very happy here in Starkville."
Now that Starkville has experienced its fifth State championship in school history and first since 2001, Mitchell doesn't want to stop there.
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Despite moving back up to Class 6A next season, Mitchell doesn't want the Jackets to be satisfied with just the one title in his tenure.
"We want to use the word dynasty here," Mitchell said. "That's what we want. We want a program that's year after year after year playing at that level."