October 11, 2018 10:40:41 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Numbers don't matter to Walker Tranum.
The senior offensive/defensive lineman enjoys his starting position, but like so many of his Starkville Academy teammates he recognizes the production of the first-stringers isn't the key to the football team's success. Instead, the Volunteers have come to rely on a mind-set in which the backups and the third-stringers push each other to make the entire team stronger.
"You have to be selfless," Tranum said. "If you're selfish and you do everything you want to do not for the team it is going to start hurting the team. Being selfless helps us win because we know what it is good for and what happens when you're not."
Starkville Academy coach Chase Nicholson calls is it "connective tissue" because he, too, knows each player on the team's 40-plus man roster has a role if the squad is going to reach its potential.
"The team has meshed together, so when it splits off on offense and defense it is still on the same page with what is going on," Nicholson said. "The heartbeat and the body is the team and then you have the branches and they all connect together. You can't have a great offense or a great defense without having a team aspect that everybody wants to be great and everybody understands they have to share and they have to have their role."
Starkville Academy will put its connective tissue to the test at 7 p.m. Friday when it plays host to Heritage Academy in a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA, District 2 game at J.E. Logan Field.
Junior wide receiver/linebacker Matt Miller feels Nicholson's use of "connective tissue" fits the Volunteers because so many of his teammates know how to play on both sides of the ball. Nicholson said even more players have taken advantage off their chances as the season has progressed to build the team's depth. As a result, players like Miller, running back Taylor Arnold, wide receiver Nason Heflin, and many others have been able to get timely breaks to ensure they are fresh at pivotal junctures.
"If we get tired, I know somebody can come in there," Miller said. "I am a main defensive player and I play a little offense, and when I get tired I know somebody can roll in there behind me and pick up the slack and I can just sit and take the defense."
Miller said all of the coaches have done a great job preparing players behind the starters to make surer they are ready to contribute. He said he has seen a huge jump in the confidence of a lot of the players to know there won't be a drop-off when someone enters the game.
Like Tranum, senior Conner Mclaughlin plays a dual role on the offensive and defensive lines. He, too, has seen an increase in the number of players who are making contributions every week. Mclaughlin believes the competition the Volunteers see in practice fosters the confidence the starters have in their backups to know they can do their jobs.
"You see them in practice getting better," Mclaughlin said. "You see people that you didn't know what they're going to do and now they're stepping up and making big-time plays in big games. It doesn't surprise me. These coaches do a good job getting people where they need to be."
Nicholson points to sophomore running back C.J. Jackson, junior wide receiver/defensive back Ben Brown, junior wide receiver/defensive back Noah Aweau, senior wide receiver/defensive back Zak Kelly, sophomore slot back/linebacker Gage Johnson, junior offensive/defensive lineman Taylor Ray, and junior offensive/defensive lineman Jacob Linley as a few examples of players who have emerged in different ways and have the right attitudes to help all of the Volunteers be the best they can be.
"These seniors and teams in the past have all set the tone that you have a role and you have to perform that role," Nicholson said. "No matter how much sometimes you want to be a part of more we're looking out for the team. We can't look out for the single individual. When your time is called and your number is called, we expect you to step up no matter what it is."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.