By JOEL COLEMAN
Starkville High football fans concerned about the school's quarterback situation in the post-Jaquez Johnson era, Gabe Myles has a message for you â€“ the position is in good hands.
SHS's new starting signal caller emphasized as much with his play on the practice field Saturday morning as the Jackets battled the heat during an intrasquad scrimmage that saw Myles steal the show.
"I thought (Myles) may have been the highlight of the whole deal," said Starkville head coach Jamie Mitchell. "He was outstanding. I think he's going to surprise a lot of people this year. He's a gifted kid that can run, and he's very athletic. He showed why we're very high on him."
Myles dazzled with his legs and his arm throughout the hour-and-a-half long session, all done with Johnson looking on as a spectator.
With his predecessor watching, Myles showed traits of confidence and ability that had to have made Johnson proud.
"(Johnson) is my neighbor, so we've got keep Chickasaw Street going," said Myles with a laugh. "But really, right now I've just got a lot of excitement. I'm just coming out here and trying to prove myself because they say I've got big shoes to fill."
Myles' only major hiccups came as a result of circumstances outside of his control. As the morning wore on, the SHS receiving corps ran into trouble finding a handle on the ball, dropping several of Myles' well-thrown passes.
"We dropped a ton of (passes)," said Mitchell. "But that's to be expected because we're still finding our way out at wideout."
Showing the type of maturity that has gained him the support of Mitchell, the SHS coaching staff and teammates, Myles insisted his receivers' miscues are simply a temporary problem, saying the drops will soon turn into completions.
"(Dropped passes) get to me, but at the same time, I know (the receivers) are trying their best to catch the ball," said Myles. "They're not going to just try and drop a pass. Drops don't make them look good or look any better. They want to catch it and they'll work on it and get better."
The Starkville offense wasn't the only unit that struggled as the day began to heat up.
The SHS defense also sputtered at times, missing assignments and tackles that linebacker David Fair attributed to fatigue.
"We're getting tired out there and sometimes that means we don't play like we need to," said Fair. "We ran to the ball well at times, but we've just got to step it up and fight through fatigue."
Fair says the responsibility is on himself and others to make sure everyone keeps battling.
"We've got leaders on both the defensive and offensive sides who step up and get each other going and help everyone get it together," said Fair.
For the veteran Mitchell, who is entering his second season at the top of the Starkville football program, seeing players tire out in the early phases of fall practice isn't a new phenomenon. It's simply a yearly battle that teams must fight if they hope to be competitive.
Yet Mitchell believes, at this moment, the fatigue factor is Starkville's biggest problem.
"Without a doubt, we've got to learn to play through it," said Mitchell. "We get 16, 18 or 20 good snaps in and then fatigue hits us and we put the brakes on. That comes from the mental part of the game and just having a little bit more heart. I know that may sound like a cliche, but that's where we are. We have to learn to play every play like it's our last."
Mitchell says once the Jackets get to the point where they can overcome fatigue, he believes SHS is primed to make a splash in its first season back in Class 5A.
Before success can be attained however, Mitchell says there is still much to do.
"We've got a good football team, there's no question about that," said Mitchell. "We've still got to find some playmakers on offense as far as who needs to touch the ball. (On defense), some formations caused us some problems (Saturday), but we're very athletic and can run extremely well.
"We've just got to keep pushing. Everyone fought (in the scrimmage), but I do think we can do a little bit more and give a little bit better effort."
On Monday, Starkville will continue its preparation for its season-opening game August 19 at Noxubee County.
On tap for the Jackets is a busy week, including Tuesday night's annual Meet the Jackets event at 6 p.m. and a Saturday jamboree matchup against McComb at 3 p.m. at Mississippi State's Davis Wade Stadium.
SHS gets a break from preparations today, but Fair says he's already looking forward to hitting the field again and trying to improve.
"It feels good to get a day off, but we'll be back at it Monday," said Fair. "We still just need to keep practicing and keep getting better."