Prior to the opening of Class 5A, Region 2, District 6 play for the Starkville Yellowjackets, it was the desire of defensive coordinator Brooks Oakley to see his unit play more like it did toward the end of last season.
It was the effort of the defense that contributed to Starkville's run all of the way to the Class 5A State Championship game in 2011.
Oakley has watched the Jackets get closer to that style of defense lately.
Starkville did not allow an offensive touchdown in its first two division games of the season against Lanier and Provine.
"When you haven't given up a touchdown, that's always a good thing," Oakley said of the last two weeks. "It's about effort, energy and trying to get our guys to play more excited which is easy to do when you are winning. When you are getting beat, sometimes that energy is lacking."
After starting the division slate with a 48-0 victory at Lanier, the Jackets followed that up with a 23-6 win at Provine. The only points SHS surrendered in that game came on an interception return by Tevin Carter of the Rams.
The Jackets have given up 17.7 points per game and an average of 184.8 total yards per game this season.
One of the reasons for the improved play on defense is the emergence of young players like Derion Ford and Maleke Bell.
SHS head coach Jamie Mitchell said there have been some adjustments made on defense with Ford and Bell adding needed depth.
"More than anything else, we've made a concentrated effort to work the inside part of our defense the last three weeks and have tried to get tougher and better there," Mitchell said. "We feel like we've done that."
Linebacker Taylor Johnston leads the Jackets with 42 total tackles and had a good game against Provine with six tackles, two tackles for a loss and one sack.
Oakley said the rest of the defense seems to feed on what Johnston is able to do on the field.
"None of them played what they were capable of the first couple of games, but Taylor is getting back to where he was playing last year," Oakley said. "He was playing great defense last year and hopefully he is getting back to where he was."
Mitchell calls Johnston "the quarterback" of the defense and is glad to have him on that side of the football.
"He is as good as you will find," Mitchell said. "He's a tough kid, knows where to get and knows how to get everybody lined up. He's certainly a two-year starter and playing like it. He's absolutely one of our best defensive players."
Johnston welcomes the responsibility of being looked upon as a leader on defense and the challenge is made easier because of the quality of the group.
"We basically know what we're doing, but sometimes they just need a little calming down or picking up," Johnston said. "Last year, we were really close as a team and we're having more fun now. We're not just playing as teammates, but as brothers, so we are coming together more as a team. We're not really blaming one single person for an error. It's making us tighter and we're not arguing among each other."
David Fair, Johnston's partner at linebacker, has battled various injuries throughout his career. Johnston values Fair's contribution to the team.
"Everything we get out of David is good," Johnston said. "He is a great guy, a Christian guy and he's a great leader out there."
Mitchell is thankful to have someone like Oakley to put in charge of the defense.
Oakley followed Mitchell to Starkville when they made the move from Itawamba AHS.
"He's been with me a long time and that's kind of what it takes," Mitchell said. "You've got to have some guys that know you and know what you want. He's certainly been there long enough to do that, knows exactly how we want to get lined up with things and knows our system inside and out. He does a great job coordinating that side of the ball."
The Jackets play their third division game of the season and first at home this season against the Ridgeland Titans. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.