Liken James Graves to whatever you please -- the foundation, a pillar, a rock -- it's all the same to Bassfield head coach Lance Mancuso.
"That's exactly what I was fixing to say -- he's been the rock of our team and really the rock of our program since the ninth grade," Mancuso said.
Graves has started at linebacker for the Yellowjackets since his freshman year, and is the captain of the defense. A defense that is giving up a miniscule average of 7.5 points per game through 15 games this season.
The same defense that has pitched six shutouts so far this year, including ones over perennial powers such as Tylertown, East Marion and Seminary, and will take on Eupora at 3 p.m. today for the Class 2A State Championship in Jackson.
And at the heart of it all is -- and has been -- Graves. He's racked up more than 100 tackles, good enough for second on the team, despite missing most of one game due to injury and several halves of early-season games when Mancuso decided to pull the starters when the contest was well in hand.
Mancuso said one of Graves' attributes that probably gets overlooked most often is his mind. The senior is in line to graduate as his class's valedictorian, something his older sister, Jameshia, did in 2007 at Bassfield.
"He's as close to being without faults as you can get," Mancuso said. "The biggest con with James is he won't talk. He's not very vocal."
But Jefferson Davis Schools superintendent Ike Haynes said don't let Graves' quiet demeanor fool you.
"In the classroom, he's as quiet as a mouse," he said. "But you don't want to see him on the football field. He's as violent of a linebacker as I've seen."
Graves is OK with having such differing reputations on and off the field.
"They always say I'm quiet in the classroom and stuff," he said. "And, yeah, I'm quiet. But I have to be very vocal on the field. I have to make sure everybody's in the right spot and call all the plays."
And over the course of the past four seasons, Graves has put together a resumé that has university and junior college recruiters drooling. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior is still undecided which program at the next level will land his services.
In the running are Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech, Louisiana-Lafayette, Alcorn State, Northwestern State, Jones County Junior College, and Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Aside from schoolwork and football, Graves is an avid video gamer, listing the Madden, NBA2K and Call of Duty series among his favorites.
But he's also somewhat of an outdoorsman.
"Sometimes I'll ride my horses," he said, noting he's got two -- Cue Ball and Red Diamond. "I've always liked animals. I thought about becoming a vet, but I like technology a lot."
Graves said he plans to major in software engineering, and is already taking online college courses at JCJC.
But right now Graves is focused on beating Eupora today, and winning his second state championship as a member of the Yellowjacket football team. He was part of the 2009 squad that defeated Ackerman for the 2A title.
"I can remember what it felt like," he said. "It felt great being on top. It would be great to get (a championship) coming in and get another one going out."