Looking back with pride: Nicholson likes what Vols accomplished during season

Starkville Academy head football coach Chase Nicholson, left, and defensive coordinator Brad Butler.

Staff Writer

There was disappointment in the camp of the Starkville Academy Volunteers due to the fact they were not able to defend their AAA State championship this season.

Starkville Academy head coach Chase Nicholson wishes his team was getting ready to face Heritage Academy. Instead Adams County Christian is making the trip to Columbus because of its 32-13 win in Starkville last week.

After he had a chance to reflect back on the just completed season, it brought a tremendous amount of satisfaction for Nicholson because of what the Vols accomplished.

Starkville Academy won the first eight games of the season on the way to a 9-3 overall record and reached the second round of the AAA playoffs.

“We had a great season,” Nicholson said. “I’m proud of the guys and proud of the way they played all season. I haven’t looked yet, but I know in my 10 years here, there has never been an 8-0 start for any team.”

In the eight-game winning streak to begin the season, the Vols defeated Lamar School 21-10, French Camp 25-0, Indianola Academy 20-14, East Webster 51-0, Magnolia Heights 24-0, Winston Academy 28-2, Pillow Academy 17-14 and Canton Academy 35-10.

Starkville Academy lost back-to-back District 2 games to Heritage Academy 21-7 and Leake Academy 29-20 to close the regular season, but rebounded to handle Cathedral 40-6 at home in the first round of the playoffs.

“You can go down the list of all the check marks of all the things they accomplished with the excitement of the Lamar game, the excitement of the Indianola game, the the excitement of the Pillow game, and the excitement of the Leake game even though it was a loss,” Nicholson said. “So many times there were games they won on pure guts and lost on pure guts. It’s a testament of what the seniors did and what this team was able to accomplish as a whole. They continued to fight week in and week out. You wish you could have gotten one more, but sometimes it’s not in the cards and sometimes it’s just not your time. The great thing is you can reflect back on all the good things. As a coach, as a player and a future player, you can look back to find things to correct and work on for next year.”

Taylor Arnold was able to go over the 1,000-yard mark for the second-consecutive season with the Vols. He had 198 carries for 1,043 yards rushing.

Nicholson knows Arnold probably could have even had more production on the ground, but his unselfish nature was able to allow C.J. Jackson an opportunity to develop in the run game. Jackson had 527 yards on 96 carries as the pair combined for 1,570 yards rushing.

The emergence of Jackson allowed Arnold to play more wide receiver and quarterback on offense. He also kicked extra points and returned kicks.

“Of course, he wanted to do better than his 1,000, but he broke 1,000 which is always a good mark,” Nicholson said of the versatile Arnold. “He did more than just that. He did whatever we asked and called him to do.”

Starkville Academy’s defense was once again solid. The unit forced 11 interceptions and had 12 sacks.

Nicholson said he never had to worry about the defensive side of the football led by coordinator Brad Butler.

“They fought to the last just like we all did,” Nicholson said. “Coach Butler and I talked about what this defense was able to do over the last two years. What they were able to do, the amount of games they won and points they didn’t allow was a very impressive thing. It’s a dominant defense the guys can hang their hats on the rest of their lives.”

The Vols were led by the Miller brothers on defense with a combined 267 tackles. Matt Miller had 140 tackles and Will Miller added 127 tackles. Campbell Spivey also went over the 100-tackle mark with 119.

Even though the loss to Adams County Christian School stung, Nicholson said Starkville Academy has put “the 24-hour rule” into place.

Just like the Vols have done after every game, win or loss, they thought about what happened for one day, then went back to work.

“On Sunday, it was time to go back to work,” Nicholson said. “Not necessarily thinking about next year but reflecting back on the season and what can I do better, what can we do better, what can I change for the future and what can I do for the success that we have had for many years to continue to have those successes and elevate their game.

“I don’t want to be complacent, these coaches are not going to be complacent, these seniors wouldn’t want us to be complacent and these groups coming up don’t want to be complacent. We’re going to continue to find ways to improve and keep getting better. The guys got right back in the weight room on Monday unprovoked. We gave them time off, but you walked in there and a bunch of young guys in there getting better. That’s what you want to see. They are hungry and want to do better. That’s the legacy the seniors leave.”

When Starkville Academy prepares for the 2019 season, the district will have a different look.

Six classes have been created and schools have been realigned.

In football, the Vols will be a part of Class AAAAA and their district opponents will be Heritage Academy, Pillow Academy, Washington School, Bayou Academy and Magnolia Heights.

“It’s familiar, but different,” Nicholson said of the setup. “We’ve played Pillow, played Mag and we played Washington every year but this year. Bayou is the only unfamiliar team we’ve never played so that will be interesting. It’s a new challenge, new excitement and new stuff.”