WAYNESBORO, MS (WDAM) - Markus Kittrell is well aware when people speak of Wayne County football, the assumption is the conversation will be of the public school War Eagles.
Kitrell and his teammates would like to change that a bit this fall.
"When you say Wayne County, everybody knows Wayne County High School, but it's time for us to put it out there about Wayne Academy, where everybody will know about us," said Kittrell, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound, two-way lineman for the Jaguars.
Wayne Academy will share War Eagle Stadium Friday night when it takes on South Choctaw (Ala.) Academy at 6 p.m. in the opening game of the 2017 Timber Bowl. Wayne County High School will host West Jones High School in the second game about 30 minutes after the end of the first.
Kittrell said the Jaguars want to get off to a fast start.
"We've got a good chance of doing something special," Kittrell said.
If so, Kittrell likely will be a big part of it.
"What makes Markus so good is his work ethic," Wayne Academy coach Cole Holden said. "He shows up ready to work every day. He's going to be a four-year starter for us, so he's got plenty of experience under his belt. He's been playing on Friday nights for a while now.
"He's a great student in the classroom, just a good young man."
Last season, the Jaguars finished 5-5 before losing to Prentiss Christian Academy in the opening round of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools' Class 2A playoffs.
This year, Wayne Academy has moved up to Class 3A.
"I've told them from jumpstreet, after we found out we were moving up, to embrace it and the challenges it will bring," Holden said. "We're excited about it. It's like I told the kids, yeah, it comes with its challenges, but you're playing on a bigger stage when you're playing 3A."
Kittrell said the Jaguars are ready.
"It's going to be a challenge," Kittrell said. "Bigger schools, they've got a lot more players on the sidelines. But we're in lot better shape going into the season and I feel comfortable with it. It'll be a challenge, there's no doubt, but I think we'll do good with it."
Wayne Academy comes into the season with a relatively young but experienced team. Of the 30 or so Jaguars expected to dress out, only six are seniors. But of the 30, many were on the field last year.
"We'll have a lot of kids on the field who have some experience under their belts, even some of our new starters," Holden said. "Kids who didn't start last year but will this year, have seen a considerable amount of playing time.
"Our big class is going to be this junior class and most of them started for us as sophomores last year. Next year, we'll have a big crew of the three-year starters running around out there, which is always a good thing."
Part of that junior class includes quarterback Colton Coxwell, who saw snaps at the position in 2016.
"He's just an athlete we moved all over the place," Holden said.
Another contributor is expected to be junior running back Payne West, who played receiver last season. He'll be running behind an offensive line that returns Kittrell and three other starters.
The Jaguars bring back eight starters on defense, including three on the defensive line.
"I'm a firm believer that defense wins ballgames," Holden said. "You've got to keep your opponent off the scoreboard, while your offense figures out a way to get in the end zone."
Kittrell said he enjoys defense, but eels more natural on the other side of the ball.
"I love defensive line," Kittrell said. "You can hit people. It's fun. But offensive line is my specialty. I'm a lot better at offensive line."
Kittrell said he want to leave his mark at Wayne Academy.
"I really feel like I've got to step up more than I ever have because I've got more on my shoulders," Kittrell said. "If you put out hard, and everybody follows. I've got to step up and show 'em what we're made of.
"We're looking to really turn it around, make the playoffs, make a run for it."