The seven Starkville football players who signed football scholarships on Wednesday are joined by SHS administrators and Yellowjackets coach Jamie Mitchell. (Kim Murrell/SDN)
By DANNY P. SMITH
Starkville High School's football signing day celebration Wednesday morning was flavored with a little bit of variety.
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Seven Yellowjackets inked scholarships at the school's athletic complex that included four junior colleges, one NAIA, one Division I-AA and one Division I.
With one move of a pen on a piece of paper, one SHS player was sent off to as far away as Iowa, one to Tennessee, another to Louisiana and four stayed home in the juco ranks.
The Jackets shared the moment with family, friends, coaches and administration.
It was Starkville head coach Jamie Mitchell's first senior class to move on and he didn't mind bragging about the group.
"Athletically they all can play, but these are seven of the highest character kids I've ever coached," Mitchell said. "They've done tremendously well in academics and I can't say enough about the type of people they are.
"Good people make good players and they are going to do great wherever they are headed. It's a great day for us and a great day for our program."
The Jackets who signed were defensive lineman Chris Prater with Louisiana-Lafayette, tight end Martavius Foster with Tennessee State, linebacker Prinston Henderson with William-Penn University, running back Garrett Smith with Northeast Mississippi Community College, and quarterback Jaquez Johnson, offensive lineman Jarrod Atterberry, and linebacker D.J. Jordan with East Mississippi Community College.
Foster was happy to be a part of so many SHS players moving on to bigger and better things.
"It shows what kind of talent we had on our team and in Starkville," Foster said. "We have guys come through like this every year. They may not all sign scholarships, but the talent level is here."
With Prater joining the Ragin' Cajuns, he's the first Jacket to ink a Division I scholarship in five years.
"I didn't know I was the first one (in five years) until coach told me," Prater said. "I can't say I feel that much more important because we have more players doing the same thing in coming years, but it feels good to start it."
Prater said he'll feel like a Division I player going in and plans to do what it takes to compete on that level.
There are some mixed feelings existing because of moving from his hometown of Starkville to Lafayette, La.
"I love my town and I really don't go to other places very often so when I leave, I'm really going to miss my family and friends," Prater said. "I'm going to stay in touch through phone calls and such."
Prater will have a little taste of home once he gets to Lafayette as new coach Mark Hudspeth was previously the wide receivers coach at Mississippi State and his home is Louisville.
Tennessee State, Arkansas State, Samford and UAB were also in line for Prater's services, but he said Hudspeth did a good job of "checking up on me."
After totaling 25 total tackles and three tackles for loss last season for SHS, Prater wants to work on his drive after contact and speed.
Prater said it was tempting to join Foster at Tennessee State, but was satisfied with his choice to attend Louisiana-Lafayette.
The reason why Foster chose Tennessee State was the facilities.
"They play in Tennessee Titans stadium which is nice and they've got a good locker room. They are building new locker rooms as we speak. It's a pretty good program."
Foster said he's committed to do whatever he can to improve Tennessee State whether that's at tight end, the position he was recruited, or as a defensive end.
"I just need to get bigger, stronger, faster and get the plays in my head," Foster said.
Foster caught 21 passes as a tight end for the Jackets last season for 359 yards and two touchdowns, while making 18 tackles with two sacks on defense.
Johnson, Jordan and Atterberry are joining an EMCC program that is only one year removed from a state championship.
"We're going down there to do wonders," Atterberry said. "I wouldn't sign unless I thought we could win state."
Atterberry anticipates playing center or guard with the Lions and plans to slim down during the offseason so he'll be ready for the fall.
"I'm going to work on being a better football player all of the way around," Atterberry said. "I want to improve all aspects of the game."
Atterberry liked the thought of going to EMCC with two of his teammates and rejoining Billy Shed, a former Jacket already in Scooba.
The possibility of blocking for Johnson again one day was appealing to Atterberry.
"I love blocking for Quez because you don't know what he's going to do," Atterberry said. "Sometimes he will take off and run. I like to run-block also."
Johnson rushed 157 times for 707 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. He completed 74 of 156 pass attempts for 1,271 yards and 16 scores.
After having postseason shoulder surgery, Johnson is looking to prove he can come back and throw the football with the Lions.
Arkansas State, UAB and Louisiana-Monroe backed off recruiting Johnson because of his surgery.
"A lot of colleges don't know if I'm going to be able to throw or not," Johnson said. "(At EMCC) I can prove myself and be able to throw the ball.
"I'm looking to throw 40 times a game and that's what I want coming off shoulder surgery. It's a quarterback's dream to be able to throw the ball every play."
Johnson said he was about 55 to 60 percent healthy with his shoulder and expects to start throwing again on March 9 when he gets released by the doctors.
Johnson follows former SHS player Brad Henderson as quarterbacks with the Lions, but he wants to make a name for himself.
"He did well while he was there, but I'm going down there to better myself for a program in the future," Johnson said.
Jordan looks to do the same thing on defense at EMCC.
The leading tackler for the Jackets last season with 88 was recruited by Alcorn State and Arkansas-Monticello, but decided on the Lions because of their reputation and academic opportunity.
"It was what I was looking for as far as education and that's the main reason why I want to get into school," Jordan said. "It's getting an education for free.
"It's a championship program and I want to get into a program that's winning. It seems like a good fit."
Instead of going south to Scooba, Smith decided to head north to Booneville and NEMCC.
The size of the campus and the opportunity of playing time were the reasons Smith chose NEMCC over EMCC.
Smith came on strong for Starkville last season with 610 yards rushing on 87 carries and five touchdowns and caught 13 passes for 268 yards and another score.
With hard work, Smith expects continued improvement.
"I know if I put forth the work ethic, I'll be a much better player at the college level," Smith said. "I never thought I'd be in this situation so I take pride in it and want to step it up."
Despite the fact that going to William Penn University takes him to Oskaloosa, Iowa, and "a long way from home," Henderson didn't want to pass up this chance.
"When you get the opportunity of that size, you've got to jump on it and that's what I did," Henderson said. "It's a very competitive program. Last year, they won a championship and that's one of the reasons I'm going there because I want a ring."
Henderson, who worked his way back from meniscus surgery to make 16 tackles during the season, said the Statesmen want him to arrive on campus early so he can "get into the rotation."
Mitchell has said often how players like Foster, Prater, Johnson, Smith, Henderson, Jordan and Atterberry have set a standard that future SHS players.
"I really believe they've built a foundation from which greatness will be built on," Mitchell said. "From being role models and being in the weight room every day, it's awesome for our young players to see those guys working to get their grades and game better. That's the kind of people they are."