By Anthony Rhoads
Going to the playoffs has definitely become familiar territory for the Lovejoy Wildcats football team.
Lovejoy has made the playoffs seven out of the last eight years and tonight will mark another chapter in the team's postseason history.
The Wildcats play host to Redan tonight at Twelve Oaks Stadium for the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs.
"It's great," Lovejoy head coach Al Hughes said. "Our program has come a long way. It's expected now and that's good. Our coaches expect to make the playoffs, our players expect it, our parents expect and our administration expects it. (Former head coach) C.W. Campbell created this giant and I'm just trying to feed it."
Hughes said his team can win tonight if they stay focused, not make mistakes and play their kind of football.
"We can't beat ourselves," Hughes said. "It's usually not what the other team does to us, it's what we do to ourselves. Redan is a good team and they do some good things. We need to do what we do and take care of business."
Lovejoy comes into the playoffs as a No. 1 seed and will play the first two rounds at home. Junior quarterback Mario Fannin is looking forward to playing in front of the hometown crowd.
"It's wonderful," Fannin said. "Everyone loves to play at home. It's like our backyard. We'll have a great crowd and it will boost our ability even higher."
Lovejoy had a less than stellar start to the season, going 0-2 against Mt. Zion and North Clayton.
"I don't think anyone expected us to win the region this year especially after going 0-2 at the beginning of the year," Hughes said. "Our kids deserve to be there because they worked hard."
Fannin came into the lineup at quarterback and things started to click. Lovejoy went 7-1 the rest of the way, earning a trip to the playoffs and clinching the Region 4-AAAAA title.
"It feels great," Fannin said. "Our coaching staff did a great job and our senior leadership played a major role. The seniors kept us up and the coaches kept us even more motivated."
Fannin's leadership at quarterback has made a big difference this year but he's fairly new to the position.
"Coach Hughes said you have to have leadership and he had confidence in me and the team had confidence in me," Fannin said. "Coach Hughes entrusted me with the position. I started out as a running back and at quarterback, I was iffy about it. But it's never about me; it's about the team."
Fannin also gives a lot of credit to the offensive line in making Lovejoy a success this year.
"Chris (Scott) is excellent," Fannin said. "The line is like my brothers. Without them I would be nothing. We make sure we thank the line every time we score. I have to credit the whole line for our success."
One of the things that has helped Lovejoy is playing in Region 4-AAAAA, Hughes said. He said playing against teams like Newnan, East Coweta and Starr's Mill has prepared his team for the playoffs and he would put this region up against any in the state.
"With the level of competition in this region, you have to have some hair on your chest to play in this region," Hughes said.
Last year, Lovejoy went unbeaten in the regular season but opened the playoffs with a victory over Coffee County. The Wildcats then lost to Westside-Macon in the second round.