By JOEL COLEMAN
The development of a high school football team is often equivalent to a chef preparing a signature dish.
For Starkville Academy head coach Jeff Terrill and his Volunteers, it's now time to throw in the next ingredient.
"Last year, we kind of came up with the slogan 'Restore the Pride,'" said Terrill. "This year, the slogan is 'The Next Step.' But we realize, that's a tough step, so we've got a lot of hard work to do."
Over the past couple of weeks, those preparations began in earnest as the Vols went through their annual spring workouts.
Terrill, at the helm for just his second round of spring drills after taking over the SA program in December of 2009, says things have been going smoothly and productively for his squad as he sees the progression of the Vols since his hiring.
"It's a lot easier," said Terrill of the differences he's experienced in his sophomore season with the program. "Kids' attitudes are better, their work ethic is better and it's just daylight and dark really. That said, there's great optimism and excitement here and there's a lot of reason to be, but the reality is, we haven't turned the corner yet. We're still working to do it."
To help SA get over the hump, Terrill welcomed one of the most well-known names in all of Mississippi high school football to his staff this spring.
Bubba Davis, who put together an impressive record of 227-106 in his head coaching career that included stops at several in-state schools as well as stints in Alabama and Georgia, is now the Vols' defensive coordinator.
The marriage between SA players and Davis has been a good one so far according to Terrill.
"When he walks in the door, there's just a natural attraction," said Terrill. "I can see why he's been so successful."
In his work with the club this spring, Davis has put a strong emphasis on the fundamentals of the Vols defense.
In doing so, Terrill is excited about the development on that side of the ball.
"The adjustments he brings are not difficult," said Terrill. "What he brings is sound football. Use low pads, tackle well, run to the ball, taking proper pursuit angles and things like that. A guy with (Davis') wisdom knows it's not what you do that wins, it's how you do it."
SA outside linebacker Stephen Robertson says the entire defense is absorbing Davis' instruction.
"The defense is going to be stronger," said Robertson. "(Davis) has helped us all out, in the weight room, and especially out on the field. It's great that (Terrill) brought him in. We're still learning things, but everything is working well."
As the defense has settled in with Davis, perhaps the biggest question mark for SA's offense this spring was the status of the quarterback position.
With last year's starter, Kyle Henson, graduating, Terrill has been looking for an individual to fill the Vols' signal-calling post.
At this time, Terrill indicated that junior-to-be Drew Pellum holds the inside track on the job, but nothing is set in stone as of yet.
"(Pellum) is certainly leading the pack, but until you are out there and tested by fire and controlling things in practice, you just don't know," said Terrill.
Terrill did indicate that there are factors that are "keeping the door open a little bit" for the quarterback spot.
Another candidate, Ryan McKell, who isn't far removed from shoulder surgery, hasn't been able to participate in contact drills this spring.
"That kind of clouds the water a little bit," said Terrill. "(McKell) is going to help us somewhere for sure we know."
Also, Brandon Sharp, a transfer from Starkville High, has impressed.
"He's done tremendously well," said Terrill. "But not being in this offense has made it a little difficult and we're playing him at a lot of different positions.
"I could see anything happening, but I'm pleased with all three."
Even with the competition at the position, Terrill says he still wants to settle on just one quarterback rather than rely on any type of rotating system.
That doesn't mean, however, that the Vols won't use the tools they have at their disposal to sometimes shake things up.
"We've had discussions about things that we can add to the offense via a Wild Rebel or Wild Hog-type deal, but it'd just be a little twist," said Terrill. "But we'd prefer to just have one guy (at quarterback) and let him run things. All three of those guys will probably play some on both sides of the ball so you're already playing multiple positions. That all complicates things a little bit."
Whoever Terrill names as his quarterback, he feels confident that individual will have plenty of talented tools around him.
Despite losing the talents of fullback Matt Ward to graduation, Terrill has been thrilled with the play at SA's skill positions.
Fullbacks Ryan Mann and John Michael Robinson are two individuals that have specifically caught Terrill's eye.
"When (Mann) hits it, you can just tell, it's at a different level," said Terrill. "(Robinson) is just having a really good spring. There's a learning curve, but he's really stepping up well and should create some depth for us at fullback."
Additionally, Terrill believes his team boasts "stronger and better" bodies on the offensive line to help guys like Mann and Robinson thrive.
"I think our biggest concern is we need to find some depth (on the offensive line)," said Terrill. "Past our first six, we're a little slim. We need some help there for sure."
All aspects of SA's team will be put on display Saturday when the Vols travel to Greenville to battle Washington School in a scrimmage that begins at noon.
Terrill says, in his eyes, the focus Saturday won't be on the scoreboard. Instead, the goal is to simply give maximum effort.
"We're going to put the football down and we're just gonna play," said Terrill. "The biggest thing we want to see is that we go out there and we compete and we're physical and we're running around and we play hard.
"We're excited to scrimmage (Washington) in the spring because, second half of that game (last fall), I don't think anybody manhandled us and whooped us worse than they did. It's going to be a good measuring stick to see how much that weight room has paid off and how much we've matured. It'll be fun."