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By JOEL COLEMAN
Starkville quarterback Gabe Myles had a perfect seat earlier this week at the Mississippi High School Activities Association's state championship press conference.
Sitting within an arm's reach of Myles was the golden ball that the SHS junior signal caller hopes to hoist on Saturday night after Starkville faces Picayune for the Class 5A title at 7 p.m. in Jackson's Mississippi Memorial Stadium.
While Myles was awaiting his table's turn to take part in the lunch provided by the MHSAA, the sight of the championship trophy stirred up a different kind of hunger.
"Seeing (the trophy) makes me very hungry," said Myles. "I can't wait until Saturday."
Myles' play is one of the biggest reasons the Yellowjackets are getting the chance to play for their first state championship in a decade.
Passing for 1,867 yards and 19 touchdowns while running for 849 yards and 10 scores, Myles has provided the perfect illustration for what it means to be a dual-threat quarterback.
"Myles is the straw that stirs (Starkville's) drink," said Picayune head coach Dodd Lee.
The fact that Myles, who played wide receiver last year prior to a season-ending injury, could step into SHS's quarterbacking role so successfully this year was no surprise to the Jackets coaching staff.
The shocking thing, according to Starkville offensive coordinator Preston Leathers, was how fast Myles began excelling at his position.
"We've always known he was going to be a great player," said Leathers. "He just made the transition so quickly. He broke his collar bone last year and didn't get much quarterback work, so basically he's just a first-year quarterback with us. I've been surprised at how quickly he's been able to do all this.
"Early in the year, we tried to protect him a little bit and ease him in slowly, but he's too good of an athlete so we took the wheels off of him quick and he just started making plays with his arms and his legs."
It's Myles' versatility that has caused opposing coaches to have many sleepless nights this year as they try and figure out a way to contain Starkville's biggest weapon.
Myles' ability to run and throw has also provided an additional perk for Leathers.
"It makes my job a whole lot easier," said Leathers. "He can make plays. People in the stands can watch us run a play and get 40 yards when the play itself was probably not a very good call. That's what Gabe can do. He can take a busted play and make it a big one."
Myles himself shows a great deal of humility for all the success he's had this season.
Even with the credit he receives, Myles makes sure his teammates get recognition too.
"This offensive line, they work so hard in practice," said Myles. "Really, the offensive line and the defensive line, they're the hardest working boys on this football team and they deserve all the credit."
Such an attitude is why Leathers admires both Myles' athletic ability and demeanor.
"He's a great player, but he's an even better person," said Leathers. "We're just glad he's our quarterback."
Starkville can also find satisfaction in knowing that Myles should be right back behind center next year, hoping to lead the Jackets on a return to Jackson in his senior season.
For now though, Myles isn't worried about the future.
Instead, Myles is focused on making sure the 2011 Class 5A trophy is en route from Jackson to Starkville come late Saturday night.
"Right now, all I'm concerned with is this year and let's get it done this year," said Myles. "Maybe after Saturday, I'll think about everything else, but everyone keeps preaching to us we've got to get this now. Even with all the talent we'll have coming back, you never know what will happen next year. That means we've got to get it done now."