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Terrill, Mitchell bring success to Starkville

December 24, 2011

Starkville Academy's Jeff Terrill isn't a prophet, he's a head football coach.
That fact didn't stop Terrill from looking into the gridiron future of the city of Starkville not long after his hire as SA's leader in December of 2009.
With his friend Jamie Mitchell about to take over the helm of the Starkville High School Yellowjackets, Terrill had an interesting thought.
"When I got here that first spring, I said that I could remember many years when Starkville Academy and Starkville High School both had tremendous football programs," said Terrill. "I predicted that it would happen again."
Just two years later, Terrill's prediction has become Starkville's reality.
This past season, as Terrill guided Starkville Academy to its first winning campaign in six years, Mitchell was spearheading a similar revolution just across the street from the SA campus.
Both Terrill and Mitchell, the Starkville Daily News All-Area Coaches of the Year, each guided their teams to division titles.
SA made its first state championship game appearance since 2005, while Starkville High played for a state crown for the first time since 2001.
When coupled together, the success of Terrill and Mitchell gave virtually everyone in Starkville a team to be proud of.
"It's been a great year for Starkville football," said Mitchell. "I'm tickled to see (Starkville Academy's) success. You can also even throw Mississippi State into the mix as well with the success there.
"I think football makes this city turn. That's not meant to slight any other sports. I wouldn't do that for anything. But football is a sport that this town really seems to cling to."
Unfortunately, in recent seasons, Starkville residents hadn't had a lot to hold on to.
At Starkville Academy, the Volunteers had suffered through four-straight losing seasons, including a winless 2009 campaign, before Terrill left Itawamba Community College to take over the Vols in 2010.
In Terrill's debut season at SA, the Vols again suffered through a losing season with an overall record of 3-8, but the seeds were planted for an exciting future.
The Vols didn't have to wait long to reap their rewards as they went 10-3 in 2011, catching many by surprise, including Terrill himself.
"To speak honestly, I think when I first got here I had doubts whether we could do it or not," said Terrill. "When I say 'we', I mean all of us. Just from a lot of different standpoints, I don't think I'd ever seen anything like it was. If someone had told me we were going to win 10 games in the second year here, I would've never believed it.
"Our goals, even when we started the year, were realistic. Of course, everybody wants to be a state champion, but we try to have very realistic goals and our goals were to have a winning season and make the playoffs. We were crossing our fingers hoping for six, maybe seven wins, sneak into that No. 2 spot and get in the playoffs."
SA far exceeded their own expectations. The Vols wrapped up the division championship in the next-to-last game of the regular season with a win over East Rankin, then topped Lee Academy in a home playoff game to get to the state championship.
Though Washington School spoiled SA's chance at a Cinderella ending, Terrill couldn't have been any more pleased with his Vols.
"Two things that kept running through my mind was, one, the kids were able to see that hard work and commitment does pay off," said Terrill. "And two, I couldn't help but think of the seniors (from the 2010 season). I kept telling them they had to lay a foundation for us. Even though they were not there this year and they only won three games in their senior year, they'll never know how what they did really set the stage for this next class to really believe they could do it."
While Starkville Academy put together their remarkable story, Mitchell was helping Starkville High write its own fairy tale.
After going 5-6 in his first season at SHS after departing Itawamba Agricultural High School, Mitchell pulled all the right strings in year two, guiding the Yellowjackets to a 12-3 overall record.
Much like Terrill, Mitchell was caught a little off guard by how quickly his team pulled things together.
"Obviously, you dream for that, but you certainly wouldn't expect it in a two-year time frame," said Mitchell. "You'd think it'd take a little bit longer. We were thinking our third year here would be better than the first couple because we have so many young players, but it was just a magical year.
"Things fell in place for us. The kids just did a great job of playing and the ball bounced our way some and it has got to happen that way if you're going to get to Jackson."
Once getting to the big stage, Starkville fell just shy of winning a golden ball as Picayune came from behind to down the Jackets.
Still, Mitchell was proud of his team's year and was happy to have had the chance to be a head coach in a state title game for the very first time.
"That was a lifelong dream of mine," said Mitchell. "I had the chance to experience it in 1991 as an assistant and there is absolutely no words to describe that feeling.
"To have your football team there representing your school is completely overwhelming. It's an honor that I truly take to heart and I'll never forget that experience. If we never make it back, it's something I'll always cherish. Hopefully we'll be back, but you just never know."
Mitchell isn't only rooting for his own team to have the chance to play for a championship again.
If things go his way, Mitchell says everyone at Starkville and Starkville Academy will have plenty to cheer for in 2012.
"Hopefully, we can all duplicate all this success next year," said Mitchell.

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