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By DANNY P. SMITH
Whether it's football, basketball or baseball, Starkville's Jaquez Johnson likes being where the competition is.
That's what impressed Jamie Mitchell the most once he became the head football coach of the Yellowjackets.
"I only had the privilege of having him this year, but he's a guy with uncanny ability and a fierce competitor which is probably his biggest assett," Mitchell said. "He is tremendously talented and it didn't matter what the situation was or wherever we needed him. He played linebacker (against Columbus) and hadn't played linebacker all year long. He's the kind of guy who can play anywhere at any time and we used him in that capacity."
Johnson has taken those traits with him to Mobile, Ala., this week as a member of the Mississippi All-Star team. The 24th annual Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Classic takes place Saturday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
Upon finding out that he had been invited to play in the game, Johnson found it difficult to come up with the words of just how much it meant to him.
"I really can't explain what I thought," Johnson said. "I felt good. It was just how happy I was and it was just another accomplishment for the season. It didn't look like I was going to be in any all-star game let alone the Mississippi-Alabama.
"When people started watching us play and saw we were a good team, that helped me get an All-Star spot."
Johnson nearly accounted for 2,000 yards of total offense for SHS last season with 1,978 yards. He completed 74 of 156 pass attempts for 1,271 yards with 16 touchdowns and rushed 157 times for 707 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The Jackets just missed out on making the Class 6A playoffs with records of 5-6 overall and 3-4 in Class 5A, Region 1.
Mitchell said the leadership of Johnson put Starkville in position to pull off wins such as West Point and Tupelo last season.
"He was the heart beat of our team," Mitchell said. "Our guys listened to him and looked to him. You don't replace those kind. You appreciate what you got out of them and he'll do exceptionally well wherever he ends up going."
Johnson was contacted by Southern Mississippi, UAB and Memphis during the season and hopes the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Classic can bring more attention his way.
Since finding out he made the Mississippi roster, Johnson worked out after school under the watchful eye of SHS assistant coach Rob Morgan.
Johnson has done quite a bit of running and said basketball practice has helped keep him in shape.
Morgan has been glad to give Johnson the individual instruction he needs and what's hard to get during the season.
"When you go through the season, you don't really have time to get back to working on individual drills, drop back drills and footwork," Morgan said. "We went back, refreshed everything and did the individual drills that you lose contact with during the season when you've got team drills and not as much individual time."
Morgan said the main things they focused on was footwork drills and pocket awareness, but also wanted to make sure Johnson could make all of the throws on basic hitches, out routes and slants.
While in Mobile, Ala., Johnson is looking to make a name for himself, his school and for the state of Mississippi. Alabama holds a 16-7 advantage in the series that dates back to 1988.
"My goal is to go down there, take charge and show everyone what I can do," Johnson said. "If I play good, then they'll notice me.
"I'm tired of losing to Alabama every year. I'm going to get a win."