News 25’s 25 Teams in 25 Days: St. Martin Yellowjackets
The shoulder pads are on at stop number 17 on News 25’s 25 Teams in 25 Days where the St. Martin Yellowjackets hardly feel like the same team as the year before under first-year Head Coach Ty Smith.
Inside linebacker Gavin Allen said, “Smiles across the whole field. Everybody is loving it, man. It’s been a huge difference. I’ve been a part of the program since my freshman year. I got brought up. And the difference from Coach Smith getting here from then is just crazy. The atmosphere is different. The players want to be here.”
Head Coach Ty Smith said, “My biggest thing is just seeing the look in the kid’s eyes. Not to sound cliche about anything, but I mean they’re excited. They want to win. They’re begging for practice.”
Ask and you shall receive under first-year Head Coach Ty Smith, who took over for the recently retired Eddie Wayne Whitehead in January after one season as St. Martin’s offensive coordinator on the back of eight years as an assistant coach right across the bridge at Ocean Springs. “I never set out my goal to be a head football coach. But I said if I ever got the opportunity, I was going to make sure I got guys that they already knew what I expected, what the expectations were and what it took to win and how to get kids to believe in themselves and the program. It’s been a process, but we got there.”
Practically overnight, the St. Martin football field is a lot more crowded, having increased the program size from about 50 varsity players to 80 in one off-season. Wide Receiver Noreel White said, “Coach Smith will go find people. Coach Smith is going to make you play. And then he makes us go find people, so that’s how it is. We’re going to have a big team this year for sure, though.”
“That’s not just going down the hallways and grabbing every single kid and giving them a helmet. I mean we’ve got some kids that have not been playing or athletic or big or talented, so we’ve just got to find roles and teach the game.”
Another new face, hailing from Mendenhall, is senior Quarterback D.K. Jenkins, whose father, Derrick Jenkins, just so happens to be one of St. Martin’s new assistant coaches.
His son perhaps the missing piece to the puzzle on offense as a true dual-threat weapon with the built-in leadership that comes with five playoff victories over the last two years. Quarterback D.K. Jenkins said, “I’m really a dual-threat. Bring that leadership and same swagger from Mendenhall, bring it back down here and hopefully we can lead this team to the promise land.”
“Aside from his athleticism, his knowledge of the game and all, it’s the leadership. That’s one thing that I really felt we needed here, even from coaches that we got in. We needed some excitement. We needed some leadership. We needed organization. We’re very, very fortunate to have him.”
And Jenkins is very fortunate to have a four-star playmaker on the outside in the form of junior Wide Receiver Noreel White, who already has Division I offers from Florida State, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Troy, and Arkansas State.
White’s 600 plus receiving yards and seven touchdowns is more than double that of any St. Martin player last season. “Something I’ve really never seen before. He’s just really athletic, makes every catch, any catch possible.”
“Noreel is unbelievably talented. He’s got the skill set. Now he’s got the work ethic. He’s really bought in. He’s buying in. He’s being a leader. It’s not a me thing anymore. It’s a we.”
“We’re going to surprise everybody for sure because everybody probably thinks we’re going to go 1-9, 2-8 again. But I don’t see that. Everybody put in. Everybody bonded. Everybody is together now. We weren’t like that in the past years, in my opinion. But I feel like we’re a lot stronger as a team now.”
White is one of just five returning starters back from last year’s team that finished with an overall mark of 2-8 and 1-6 in Region 4 Class 6A including five straight losses to close out the season. “I don’t think the kids even remember last season in some ways.”
“Nobody wants to be that, so that just drives us to work harder, do better at practice, do better in class. Like just be a better person, be a better individual. That’s what helps us keep ourselves up from not trying to be like last year.”
St. Martin is now three years removed from back-to-back trips to the playoffs in 2017 and 2018 which means this year’s senior class of about a dozen is still in search of not only its first ticket to the dance, but also, the program’s first-ever post-season win and hey, why stop there? “We’re just trying to make history, you know?”
“We’re trying to go to the state championship, for sure. That’s how we’re feeling.”
“Coach had about 12 of the last teams up, their pictures up in the hallway. And one thing we kind of told our team, we came in a few weeks ago, me and some of the other coaches, and was like, nah. You’ve got to earn your right to have your team picture on the wall in the fieldhouse. So, the way we’re doing it from here on out is the only way your team picture goes up in there, is if you make the playoffs. So, there’s only two team pictures that are going to be up in there as of right now. And these kids, this group of seniors, they’re really, really pushing to try to have theirs up there.”
Coach Smith and the players say this year’s motto is a simple one: “family.”
St. Martin opens up the 2022 campaign with an August 26th home game against the Stone Tomcats.
Wrapping up with some coaches picks, Ty Smith says it doesn’t matter where, but anywhere that serves oyster on the half-shell, that’s the go-to spot. As for all-time player, huge Dan Marino fan, and a bonus coaching idol pick from Alta High School in Salt Lake City, Utah, Doug Berry, and finally, 2004 ALCS Red Sox 3-0 comeback over the Yankees is his favorite championship moment.