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Still 'Friend' of SHS, but a foe on Friday

November 2, 2011

Coach Chuck Friend, right, visits with a player during his time as the head football coach at Starkville High School. Friend now coaches at Neshoba Central and will lead the Rockets into Friday's Class 5A, Region 2, District 6 championship game against his former school. (Photo submitted by Starkville High School)

There was a time when Chuck Friend wanted Starkville High School to do well in football and did everything in his power to help the Yellowjackets enjoy success.
As the coach at SHS from 1994-2000, Friend was a part of bringing a pair of state championships to the Jackets (1994 and 1995).
Friend left Starkville for Neshoba Central in 2000 and has led the Rockets program ever since.
On Friday, Friend will try to help Neshoba Central to the Class 5A, Region 2, District 6 championship and the opponent just happens to be the Jackets. Kickoff for the game will be 7 p.m. in Philadelphia.
Friend still has fond memories of Starkville and what he was able to accomplish during his time with the program.
"From a winning standpoint, those are the best years I've ever had and I certainly appreciated the opportunity to coach there," Friend said. "It's been 10 years (since leaving the Jackets) and a lot has happened in those 10 years. Certainly some of the faces over there will be special to me, mainly that Danny Ditta, but that's part of coaching."
Ditta is the equipment manager for SHS and performed the same duties during Friend's tenure as coach. Also still coaching with the Jackets are Tate Fischer and Steve Denson, who knew what it was like to work with Friend.
Current SHS coach Jamie Mitchell also considers Friend, exactly that, a friend.
"Chuck is a great football coach and I think one of the best in the state," Mitchell said. "He's been doing it a long time and has been extremely successful. He's got two state championships here and is probably the owner of a third because the team he left was a tremendous football team."
Friend has developed another squad into district title contenders with this year's Rockets.
Neshoba Central has records of 7-3 overall and 5-1 in the region, while Starkville stands 8-2 overall and 6-0 in the region.
Friend is not surprised to see the Jackets in this position, but has been caught off guard by how far the Rockets have come to be playing for a championship.
"I think it's going to be exciting," Friend said. "If you had told me at the beginning of the season we'd be here, I'd be real happy, which I am. I felt like (Starkville) would be the team to dominate our division which they have done."
Even though he considers there to be some lucky breaks along the way that have helped Neshoba Central's cause, Friend said it has played some good football along the way.
"Overall, our guys have played fairly hard and we've got two or three pretty good players and some role players, but we haven't played anybody like Starkville," Friend said.
The most dangerous Rocket is quarterback Josh Stewart, who has rushed for 902 yards on 131 carries and 12 touchdowns. He has completed 20-of-37 pass attempts for 350 yards and four more scores.
Running back O'Neal McCarty is the leading rusher for Neshoba Central with 119 carries for 927 yards and nine touchdowns.
Mitchell knows the capability of the Rockets and doesn't expect Friend to have any problem motivating them to play against the Jackets.
"He'll have those guys ready to play, no question about that," Mitchell said.

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