By DANNY P. SMITH
The Starkville Yellowjackets begin to test new waters tonight.
As a member of Class 5A, Region 2, District 6, the Jackets play their first region game when the Jackson Lanier Bulldogs come to town.
Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell admits that the element of the unknown comes into play when it comes to playing region opponents such as Lanier, Provine, Ridgeland, Yazoo City, Canton, Callaway and Neshoba Central.
Even though Mitchell has played against one or two of those teams in 22 years of coaching, it doesn't help very much now in the scouting department.
The Jackets have a little bit of a history when it comes to playing against the Neshoba Central Rockets, but for the most part, the region as a whole remains a mystery.
"It's new for everybody here," Mitchell said. "It's so unfamiliar with everyone of the division teams.
"You just worry about how the kids will look at that. You know the kids are going to get up to play the West Points and Tupelos. You hope they understand the games coming up are the ones that matter the most."
Starkville (2-2) finds out if it can get off on the right note in the region with home games against Lanier (0-4) and Provine next week. Kickoff for both to wrap up September is set for 7:30 p.m. at Yellowjacket Stadium.
"It's really big for us to get the first two at home," Mitchell said. "I don't care who they are against. If we can come out with a win in both of those, we can have a pretty good stretch there."
Mitchell said the preparation for this week's game has been good despite having to practice in the rain.
"Even with the conditions as bad as they were, Monday was a really good day for us," Mitchell said. "I felt like we got some things accomplished."
Starkville's offense is run by junior quarterback Gabe Myles, who has 579 yards of total offense with 475 yards passing and 104 yards rushing.
Sophomore running back Devontae Davis is the leading rusher for the Jackets with 126 yards on 20 carries, while junior receiver Devin Mitchell has nine catches for 189 yards.
It's having playmakers like Devin Mitchell, Myles and Davis on offense that comforts coach Mitchell, but Lanier also sports some dangerous athletes on that side of the football that could give the SHS defense some fits.
"Their tailback and fullback can run," Jamie Mitchell said. "If (Jarrid Smith) gets in the open field, he's dangerous. What we've got to do is keep them contained and hemmed up. We feel like we've got a good defensive plan to do that. We'll try to limit their touches as much as we can and keep them contained."
Keeping up with the Bulldogs may be a little difficult for the Jackets without linebackers David Fair (28 tackles) and J.B. Barriare, who suffered season-ending injuries.
Taking up the slack will be senior defensive end Dennis Ware (26 tackles), junior defensive back Johnny Smith (22 tackles) and senior defensive lineman Latajah Bush (21 tackles).