By Gene Phelps
Special to the Gazette
MYRTLE – Jeremy Smithey has been building football players in Myrtle’s weight room during the program’s three-year existence. Now his job is to lead them.
Smithey, 37, was named Myrtle’s head football coach this week. He replaces Justin Hollis, who left for an administrative job in the Nettleton school district.
“It’s been a dream of mine to be a head coach,” Smithey said. “We had success last season. We want it to carry over. We can’t rest on what we accomplished.”
Myrtle finished 7-1 last year as an independent in its first varsity season. This fall the team plays its first season in an MHSAA Class 1A division.
Smithey has been the team’s defensive coordinator for the three years and is the school’s powerlifting coach. He was also the junior high football team’s head coach.
“These kids have done a lot of work in the weight room. It all starts there,” he said. “We want to build athletes, then make them football players.”
Smithey has coached football, powerlifting and softball during his 12-year tenure at Myrtle. He was a member of the football staff when Union County (Myrtle, East Union, West Union, Ingomar) started its first four-school football program. When that program was discontinued, he remained on the East Union staff until Myrtle’s started up in 2016.
Hollis, the former coach, credited the success of last season’s team to its work in the weight room.
“They surpassed my expectations last year,” he said following spring drills. “That’s a credit to their hard work. They made gains during the season in the weight room. They wanted to be the best they could be. They made a name for themselves.”
Smithey’s offense will have plenty of firepower returning. During the spring, Elijah Thompson made the move to full-time starting quarterback. His ability to run will not allow defenses to key on returning running back A.I. Nugent, who rushed for 1,851 yards on 165 carries and scored 27 touchdowns last season.
Myrtle opens its season with an Aug. 23 game against Vardaman.
“Coach Hollis made us successful,” Smithey said. “I want to build on those things.”