By Jeffery Armstrong
Monday was the first day of practice for Georgia high school football teams and for the Lovejoy High Wildcats, it meant the start of defending their region championship.
Wildcats head coach Al Hughes isn't sure that his team can have another undefeated regular season like they had in 2003, but he doesn't feel they will drop too far in the standings, either.
"I feel pretty good about the team we'll have in 2004. Sure, we've graduated a lot of good kids over the years, but we've got a great bunch of kids coming back," Hughes said. "As far as having another undefeated season, you have to be good and lucky to go undefeated that's a once in a lifetime thing."
On the way to the team's second-ever undefeated season (the first was in 1999), several players were able to play significant varsity minutes and that fact has Hughes feeling good about his team's chances to compete in 2004.
"A lot of our players got much varsity playing time last season, so we have good experience returning," he said.
Several players Hughes will be counting on this season are Keith Fitzhugh (who verbally committed to Mississippi State), Gabriel Crews, offensive lineman Chris Scott, running back Mark Pettaway, defensive player David McHone and wide receiver Denzel Holloway, among others.
Georgia High School Association rules mandate that teams only practice in shorts this week. Starting Monday, June 26, teams will be able to practice in full pads.
Hughes said the Wildcats participated in morning weight training sessions, conditioning drills and testing and in the evening, they actually had basic football practice.
"The evening practice will focus on fundamentals and play introductions," said Hughes.
The interesting caveat to the 2004 season is Lovejoy will be the only Southern Crescent school that won't really be affected by the region realignment. The Wildcats will stay in Region 4-AAAAA, playing the same teams they've played for the last few years, with a few exceptions. Riverdale, Carver-Columbus and McIntosh have moved to new regions and Region 4-AAAAA has added Mundy's Mill (who played a non-region schedule last year) and Union Grove, who moved up from Region 5-AA.
"It definitely helps anytime you play against people you know," Hughes said. "It's a positive. There's no fear of the unknown for us."
One of the known foes Lovejoy will face again will be the Newnan Cougars, who's picked by many to unseat Lovejoy as region champs.
"Newnan is very good and I can see why people would pick them to win our region," said Hughes. "But that's fine we want the underdog role."