MRA football players and cheerleaders pose for a “family” photo during Meet the Patriots last week.
MRA football players and cheerleaders pose for a “family” photo during Meet the Patriots last week.
Tonight kicks off the high school season in Madison County and fans are feeling it in the hot, humid August air.

Summer practice drills are over, the routine of school has begun and cooler fall temperatures are much anticipated.

The snap of the ball, the long pass, the rat tat tat of the band, the cheerleaders, the lights, the aroma from the concession stand, a full moon, the anthem all say fall and high school football.

Madison Central begins its season tonight at Brandon at 7 p.m. (see page A8). MRA kicks off the season Friday night. (For a complete preview and schedules, see the special insert.)

Around Madison County, there is no shortage of good football, from Tri-County Academy in Flora to the still-young squad at Germantown High School.

Each year there's a host of area high school teams that enter the playoffs, with many making serious title runs. Last year it was Madison Central and MRA that made it to the semi-final round. A perennial title contender, Tri-County Academy finished 10-2 and was knocked out in postseason play.

Tailgating on high school campuses has even become competitive like the Grove or the Junction and the District in Hattiesburg.

At MRA, with enrollment up by nearly 50 students this year, that means more fans to cheer on the Madison-Ridgeland Academy football team this football season, and that was evident at last week's Meet the Patriots.

"We have a lot more people in school and especially new people have a lot of excitement," Ross Hailey, MRA Middle School principal, said. "We have a lot of people excited about this season. We've had good success the last 2-3 years."

The addition of Herbert Davis as head coach has added fuel to the fan-fire.

"Coach Davis is a new coach with us this year and any time you bring a change in leadership you have a new brand of excitement," Hailey added. "The tempo of the game that he wants to play is going to be similar to what we've done in the past. His wrinkles and variations are kind of what have people interested."

Felicia Stevens is one Madison Central mother who has seen this day come and go before - eight times to be exact - but this will be her last.

Her son Jonah, a senior on the Madison Central High School football team, will take the field for a season-opener, following in the footsteps of his two brothers, Josh and Dalton, who both played ball at MC before him.

Josh was a tight end and Dalton played in just his freshman year. Jonah is a defensive back.

Their father, Duane, is just proud.

"It's definitely weird," Felicia Stevens said. "We've been in it all these years. I told Duane the other night that I realized we had already attended our last football jamboree.

We've already attended our last 'Meet the Jags' night. We've had our last back-to-school day."

For the last third of the year, the Stevens family functions much like most Mississippi families: around the axis of high school and college football.

The Stevens are dyed-in-the-wool Mississippi State fans, and that term has meaning for them.

If Madison Central plays a road-game at Gulfport Friday night, that means someone is going to have to drive around six hours to get the crew to the Saturday game in Starkville, where Josh just graduated and Dalton is still a student.

"It's a whole seasonal thing we do," Stevens said. "We're all into it, and we go to games all over the state every week. Even if our teams are on the road, we're always watching it on television or traveling."