By JOEL COLEMAN
Starkville Academy football coach Jeff Terrill knows a thing or two about the process of rebuilding a football program.
After all, the veteran leader is currently in the midst of his quest to return the Volunteers to prominence, something that seems to be at hand following SA's perfect 4-0 start to the 2011 season.
With his recent experiences, Terrill has a good understanding of where Hillcrest Christian stands coming into tonight's 7 p.m. district game in Jackson.
The Cougars (1-3) entered this year under first-year head coach Darrow Anderson having won just one game over the course of the previous three seasons.
Though Terrill admires the job Anderson is undertaking at Hillcrest, that doesn't mean the Vols are overlooking the Cougars.
"They're probably where we were last year," said Terrill of Hillcrest. "But we do see them getting better each week in film and thought they played well last week.
"We tell our kids that we respect everyone. So we're just focusing on trying to get better ourselves."
Through its four games this season, the Vols seemingly are improving weekly, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
That much was evident last week in SA's 42-14 win on the road at Leake Academy when the Vols put up 457 yards of total offense, 396 of those coming via the rushing attack.
Included in that was 185 yards and four touchdowns on the ground by Ryan Mann and 115 rushing yards, 61 passing yards and a touchdown through the air for quarterback Drew Pellum.
"Offensively last week, I think you really just have to credit our offensive line," said Terrill. "We were excited to go to Leake, a traditionally-strong program, and have success and be able to get a win."
SA's defense kept up it's solid work against Leake as well, bending but not breaking.
The Vols are allowing, on average, just six points per game coming into tonight.
Despite SA's stinginess, the Vols defense will face a stiff test from Hillcrest in the form of senior running back T.J. Knowles.
On a team limited when it comes to experience, Knowles is the offensive catalyst.
Earlier this year, in Hillcrest's win over Adams County Christian, Knowles carried the ball 37 times for 357 yards.
"He's a very talented running back, about as good as we've seen," said Terrill of Knowles. "If you stop him, you've done an awful lot to their offense. He's got great speed and great determination. He's just a good player."
If the Vols can contain Knowles and maintain their own recent offensive production, SA has a chance to hit the midpoint of the regular season unbeaten one week ahead of a much-anticipated showdown on the road at Jackson Prep.
Yet you won't catch the Vols or Terrill looking at things that way.
Terrill declined any comment on next week's contest against Jackson Prep, other than to emphasize his team's singular mindset for tonight.
"There's only one team we're playing this week and that's Hillcrest," said Terrill.