Since Jeff Terrill took the reins of the Starkville Academy football program, he's preached the merits of hard work, effort, and competitiveness.
Those lessons netted SA a win over Winston Academy on September 24, but the two games that have ensued since then have given Terrill reason for concern ahead of tonight's trip to Clarksdale to face Lee Academy.
"We were a little disappointed in our effort and competitive level against MRA last week, like we were (two weeks ago) against Washington," said Terrill. "Certainly both were good football teams and I'm sure that was some of it, but we've still got some learning to do when it comes to jumping in there and competing and getting after it from the get-go."
Lee Academy (1-7) enters tonight in a similar boat as the Volunteers.
The Colts only win this year came on August 27 against Kirk Academy. Since then, they've lost six straight.
Neither team boasts a ton of experience from seniors either.
"They've got four, we've got six," said Terrill.
With the likeness of the two teams, Terrill believes his bunch seems to be on more of an equal playing field against this week's opponent than they have been in weeks past.
"We try to be real honest with our guys each week as far as what we're up against and what we're facing," said Terrill. "We realize (Lee) is not the caliber of JA or MRA and we've certainly got a lot better shot at (winning tonight's game). Of course you say that, but you've still got to go, you've got to block, you've got to tackle, you've got to run, and you've got to do it better than them to win."
Helping that cause will be junior running back/linebacker Ryan Mann.
"He's really had two good weeks playing linebacker and he's improving as a fullback," said Terrill.
Terrill also cites Cole Phelps and Angus Catchot as players who have become key contributors in recent weeks.
"(Phelps) is starting at offensive tackle and getting better each week and is getting a lot of reps on defense," said Terrill. "(Catchot) is one of our surprise players who has just been excellent all year long for us. He just has really become a good defensive lineman. We've had to play him more at center in recent weeks because of some of the odd-man fronts we've been playing, and he's also done a real outstanding job."
As solid as Mann, Phelps, and Catchot have been, Terrill knows they'll need help if SA is to bring home a win tonight.
Most importantly, Terrill wants to see the facets of the game his Vols haven't displayed in recent weeks.
"Hopefully this week our mindset will be better and we'll compete with every ounce of our fiber," said Terrill.