Mitchell County star defensive back Ja’Kyari Jenkins reaches up to catch a pass during practice in Camilla. Jenkins will be a big piece of the Eagles’ hopes to repeat as Region 1-A champs. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CAMILLA -- Miller County coach Frank Killingsworth began talking about the race in Region 1-A and how defending champ Mitchell County will be tough to beat again.
"They've got all that speed at Mitchell,'' he said with a laugh. "They've had speed at Mitchell County since the 1400s.''
All jokes aside, it's hard to believe anyone is talking about speed at Mitchell this season. After all, the Eagles saw the fastest football player in the state run off to Georgia when receiver and four-time individual state track champ Justin Scott-Wesley sprinted off to play for the Bulldogs. And they also watched Jesse Atkins, arguably the most electric QB in Southwest Georgia last year, also graduate and dash off to Albany State.
That's half of the state champion 4x100 relay team that led Mitchell to a team state runner-up finish in the Class A state meet. You just can't lose speed like that.
Or maybe you can?
"I think we will be even better this year,'' said Mitchell football coach Dondrial Pinkins, who also coaches the track & field team. "I think we'll be better because we have more speed.''
Pinkins isn't kidding. He may have lost Atkins and Scott-Wesley, but he's got a dozen seniors who are still upset about losing in the playoffs and enough speed to enter the Daytona 500.
"We've got speed everywhere,'' Pinkins said. "We're quick everywhere you look. That's the strength of our team -- our speed.''
The only thing slow at Mitchell is the lingering memory of last year's first-round loss to Savannah Christian. It may take a while for the kids to forget the 17-7 defeat, and it may take an eternity to explain why Mitchell, which was 9-1 and a No. 1 seed after going unbeaten and winning the Region 1-A title, had to face a 9-1 team in the first round. By the way, Savannah Christian, which was inexplicably listed as a No. 4 seed, went on to play for the state title.
"It haunts me to this day,'' said Freddy Pate, a four-year starter at center. "It's hard to forget that game. But I'm looking for better things ahead.''
So are all the Mitchell kids.
"We want to win it all this year,'' said Yancey Burns, a burner who also ran on that winning state 4x100 relay team and plays receiver and defensive end. "We want the cake.''
"Yeah, with all the candles on it,'' Pate added. "We want the cake, the candles and the fire.''
Then Pinkins chipped in and said: "No icing.''
Pate didn't flinch.
"We don't need any icing,'' he said. "The ring will be the icing.''
That's the plan -- to win it all.
"That was a tough loss,'' Pinkins said. "You look back at the mistakes and every coach can always say we should-have, we could-have. But now that we've had a taste of it, hopefully we won't make those mistakes again. Hopefully, that will motivate us to come back this year and work harder and go further.''
Pinkins believes he has more tools in the tool box.
"Last year there was a lot of pressure on the quarterback and every team we played was focusing on (Scott-Wesley). This year there won't be as much pressure on the quarterback, because we have more weapons," he said.
Pinkins said he's got at least six kids who can fly. Call them Pinkins' Quick 6. That's his motto for this year's team.
"I want to score six points every time we touch the ball,'' Pinkins said. "I just changed my name on Twitter to "Mr. Get 6.''
That group of six flyers includes Burns and three quick running backs: Modzelle Atkins, Jantae Moore and Desmond Jones. All three also play defense, while Atkins starts at cornerback and Moore and Jones are linebackers.
Mitchell's two top defensive players also are on Pinkins' Quick 6 -- cornerbacks Jaquan Williams and Herald Dynamite Dozen player Ja'Kyari Jenkins, a pair of cornerbacks who can change games in a blink of an eye. Jenkins is one of the top cornerbacks in this part of the state.
The final Quick 6 player is Tevin Watkins, who takes over at quarterback. He's making the move from defense. No, he wasn't a cornerback last year. He was a defensive tackle. He may be the only kid in the nation moving from DT to QB.
It could only happen at Mitchell, where Watkins played on the defensive line because of his quickness not his brute force. He's 5-foot-9 and weighs 170.
"He's quick and he can throw it and he can run it,'' Pinkins said. "He can pretty much do anything he wants.''
And he's ready.
"I had a big offseason,'' Watkins said. "I learned the offense.''
But Pinkins said none of those quick-hit players are as important as Pate.
"The most important player on this team is my center, Freddy Pate,'' Pinkins said. "He's a four-year starter and he can play every position on the offensive line. He's a leader.''
Pate has no trouble with the role or the pressure.
"It's hard, but this is the job I want,'' he said. "I want to be a leader. I have to be the guy. I love it.''
That's the feeling at Mitchell, where the Eagles took over Region 1-A last year and hope to be even better this time around.
"We got a taste of that cake last year,'' Burns said. "This year we want the whole cake.''
Mitchell County's 2011 season outlook
HEAD COACH: Dondrial Pinkins (fourth season at Mitchell).
2010 RECORD: 9-2.
ASSISTANT COACHES: Kerry English (defensive coordinator); Derrick Silas (offensive/defensive line); Jermaine King (running backs/linebackers); Derex Woumnm (quarterbacks).
RETURNING STARTERS: Ja'Kyari Jenkins (Sr., WR/DB.); Yancey Burns (Sr., WR/DE); Modzelle Atkins (Sr., RB/CB); Jantae Moore (Sr., RB/LB); Desmond Jones (Sr., RB/LB); Freddy Pate (Sr., C/DE); Jaquan Williams (Sr., DB/WR).
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Tevin Watkins (Sr., QB).
2011 Mitchell Co. Eagles schedule
Friday vs. Westover, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 at Dougherty, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 9 at Thomasville, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 23 vs. Stewart County, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 30 at Seminole County, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 vs. Miller County, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 14 at Randolph-Clay, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 22 vs. Calhoun County, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 29 vs. Pelham (1-A), 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 4 at Terrell County, 7:30 p.m.