By DANNY P. SMITH
Milton Smith has participated in Mississippi high school football state championships as a player and a coach.
The opportunity never gets old for Smith.
As Smith's Laurel Tornadoes get set to take on the Lafayette Commodores for the Class 4A State Championship on Saturday at 3 p.m., he has committed to taking a different approach for the latest trip to Jackson.
"I promised myself if I ever got back that I would learn how to enjoy this a little bit more than I did the first time," Smith said. "The first time you are all wide-eyed and look around. This time I'm soaking it in and really just enjoying it."
Smith was a member of three-straight Starkville High School teams that played for state titles from 1983-85.
Ironically, his former school follows Laurel on the Memorial Stadium gridiron when the Yellowjackets play the Picayune Maroon Tide for the Class 5A crown at 7 p.m.
"It's kind of crazy that they are playing behind us," Smith said. "I talked to some of the people in Starkville and some of them said they were coming down early to see us play. We're just honored to be here and to see Starkville here."
Smith was a versatile player during his time at SHS. He spent time as a wide receiver, quarterback, defensive back and was even asked to kick for coach Willis Wright.
"I played some of everything," Smith said. "Whatever they asked, I played, other than offensive or defensive line."
Smith still has family in Starkville and says he tries to get home every two weeks or so.
Coaching in his second state championship game, Smith likes the veteran squad under his care.
"We've got 23 seniors on the team and they have been with me since day one," Smith said. "They've bought into the system and we have tremendous leaders."
Quarterback Dontreal Pruitt has completed 184-of-317 pass attempts for 2,980 yards passing and 36 touchdowns and his main target is Justin Mack, who has 60 receptions for 1,269 yards and 21 touchdowns. The leading rusher is V. Tillman with 222 carries for 1,435 yards and 19 touchdowns and Smith also likes linebacker Defond Bester, who has 199 tackles.
"They are getting it done," Smith said.
Smith hopes the Tornadoes (13-1) can get it done one more time and hold a state championship trophy at the end of the day. He knows the task will be difficult against undefeated Lafayette (15-0), but believes Laurel is ready to give its best effort.
"We're going to roll the dice and see what happens," Smith said.