By DANNY P. SMITH
It was a tough blow to the Starkville High School defense earlier this season when it lost starting linebackers David Fair and J.B. Barriare to season-ending injuries.
The coaching staff of the Yellowjackets knew someone was going to have to step up in those positions if they were going to have a successful season.
SHS coach Jamie Mitchell has been pleased that Dennis Ware and Taylor Johnston have both taken on that responsibility. They have emerged as the leading tacklers for the Jackets.
"The thing about them is their instincts," Mitchell said. "They are just really, really good. They seldom get out of position and seldom get out of where they are supposed to be. Both of them are around the ball and both of them are at the top of our team's tackle charts."
Ware went over the 100-tackle mark for the season against West Point and leads SHS in tackles with 103. Johnson has 78 tackles.
When he saw Fair and Barriare go down, Ware knew he had to do something to help.
"I accepted that responsibility right after they got hurt because I knew I had to be the next in line," Ware said. "The coaches were counting on me because we were already taking a loss with two of our great players getting injured so I just had to step up and play ball."
Ware, who credits his defensive line for making his job easier, has 13 tackles for loss, one sack, and four fumble recoveries. One of those recoveries came in the 26-23 victory over Ridgeland on Oct. 7. The Jackets travel to face the Titans once again on Friday with a chance to play for the Class 5A State Championship at stake.
Starkville linebacker coach Tate Fischer feels much better about going into a game with so much on the line as long as Ware is there.
"He's a kid that has totally bought in to what we've been doing and understands he's got to make plays," Fischer said. "We saw he has some ability in the offseason, but it was up to him to tap into it. He just has a natural nose for the football and that's the part I can't coach. He just finds the football and does a pretty good job once he gets there."