Starkville High School football coach Jamie Mitchell said it feels like Christmas in July for several reasons.
First and foremost, it's the opportunity to get back on the field for the 23rd year of coaching the sport he loves. The Yellowjackets begin preseason practice on Monday.
"You just can't wait to get out there and are eager to see how some of these kids are going to progress with the summer and offseason they've been through," Mitchell said. "Our guys are ready to get out there."
Mitchell, his staff and players have also settled into the new field house that makes preparation much better.
SHS enjoyed the best summer weight room participation in Mitchell's tenure and having a nice new place to go didn't hurt.
"It's not hard to work when you've got a place like that," Mitchell said. "It's clean, it's new and smells good. It is great, our players love it and makes coming to football that much better. We're extremely proud of what we've got."
One player Mitchell is excited to get back on the field for practice is David Fair.
Fair suffered a season-ending knee injury last season, but all indications are he will be ready to help the Jackets on defense again this fall.
"We're super excited about him being where he is," Mitchell said. "We think he's ready to go and he thinks he's ready to go. We're eager to get him out there and see how that knee holds up."
With the anticipation also comes some anxiousness for Mitchell as there are some areas of concern that will be a focus early in practice.
Mitchell wants to identify some Jackets that will help along the offensive line and at defensive end. He also wants to find a long snapper and a punter.
"Those two things are absolutely a No. 1 priority right now on my list," Mitchell said. "It may sound funny to a lot of people, but it's something that will get you beat if you don't have both of those.
"We really feel good about our skilled players, feel like they are locked in and know what their roles are, but we're struggling on the offensive line to come up with some good ones so we've got to look at some guys there. On the defensive side, we lost those two defensive ends in Cory (Cannon) and (Latajah) Bush so finding two replacements are going to be huge."
One skilled player that won't be available for SHS as practice starts is wide receiver Jimmy Saulsberry, who tore his ACL in the spring. His return is not expected until midseason at the earliest.
Defensive back Johnny Smith broke his jaw in 7-on-7 work during the summer, had surgery four weeks ago and could be back for the season-opener against Noxubee County on Aug. 17.
"(Smith) won't be at practice early on, but that's not a terrible thing," Mitchell said. "He's a seasoned guy and we know what we've got in him. It's not a big deal for him to miss practice time. With a young kid, you'd be a lot more worried. Johnny knows what's going on and will be ready to go.
"Jimmy is doing his best with rehab and working hard, but those things are hard to come back from in a short period of time. We'll see how it goes. He's got a long way to go."
Mitchell was excited about the way the players worked during the summer, even the upcoming freshmen, and looks for that to carry over into the fall.
"Football has turned out to be a 365-day job," Mitchell said. "It's not just three months in the fall. The kids are learning that and the commitment that it takes.
"As we tell our guys every year, no job is locked up and everything is wide open. You've got to earn your keep the next year no matter what you did the year before because there are always guys coming up that's going to push you. We're going to look at every position and get the best people on the field."
Mitchell gets an opportunity to see how SHS responds prior to the first game when it participates at the New Hope Jamboree at Mississippi State on Aug. 11.