By DANNY P. SMITH
The spring time signals a season of growth.
That's exactly what the Starkville Yellowjackets are going to have to do on the football field.
Starting Monday, coach Jamie Mitchell sends the Jackets out for spring practice and the main objective is to plug the holes left after the graduation of 25 seniors from last season.
With that being the case, Mitchell calls this the most important spring he's had in a long time as a head coach, which he has been since 1997.
"We have so many positions that are wide open all of the way across the board offensively and defensively," Mitchell said. "We're counting on so many young players and you just don't know what they are going to do.
"For us this spring, being able to evaluate people, shift them, move them and get them in the right place is going to be absolutely essential for us to have a great spring."
Starkville just missed having a winning season and reaching the postseason in Mitchell's first year, finishing 5-6 overall and 3-4 in Class 6A, Region 2.
Even though Mitchell may have to find out some things about some younger Jackets, one thing he won't have to do is get familiar with a new coaching staff.
With a year under their belts as a group, Mitchell expects he and his assistants to be more on the same page.
"Our staff knows what direction they are going in and we know what we're trying to get accomplished," Mitchell said. "Last year, the coaches were like the players and learning their way as we went. It's amazing a difference a year makes with the ability of our coaches to be more comfortable in understanding what they are teaching and how to teach it."
There will be a great deal of teaching going on this spring.
Mitchell knows there won't be a large senior group coming up so the team will be built around the sophomore and junior classes.
"The few seniors we do have, we are certainly counting on and leadership is going to be a big issue for us," Mitchell said. "We've just got to find some (leaders). Hopefully, we'll have some guys step forward in that way."
Pieces to the 2011 SHS puzzle will have to be put together everywhere from the offensive and defensive lines, but Mitchell understands the position that requires the most attention is quarterback.
After the departure of Jaquez Johnson from behind the center, there are three players in the running for his replacement in Gabe Myles, Michael Newman and Prinston Jones.
"The quarterback position, without a doubt, is the most important as on any football team and those three guys are going to battle it out," Mitchell said. "All three of those guys have got strengths and we certainly feel good about those guys. Obviously, one of those guys needs to step forward.
"Probably Gabe has the lead going into the spring and we certainly hope he does a great job. He broke his collarbone the third game of the year and we were high on him at that time, but he missed basically the entire year and you don't know how things are going to pan out. We certainly have high expectations for all three of those guys.
"There are so many positions where there's going to be competition. It's going to be a fun spring from that point."
With new players at key positions and the Jackets competing in a new classification and division (Class 5A, Region 2, District 6), Mitchell believes a football program is being built to adapt to those changes.
"We feel like we'll have a team that will grow this year," Mitchell said. "Certainly from this point on down the stretch, we feel like we'll be able to stack some pretty good classes together.
"We may not be where we'd like to be this year just because of the youth we're going to have to play, but there are some rewards that will come from that down the line. We're going to have some growing pains this year and we're going to grow with them. I think it will pay dividends for us down the road."
Starkville wraps up spring drills with a game at Columbus on May 12.