By Anthony Rhoads

Back in 2001, Al Hughes and a group of freshman football players began a journey together.

It was a new experience for those young football players as they were beginning their high school careers but it also was a new experience for Hughes. After several years as offensive coordinator, Hughes was promoted to head coach after C.W. Campbell resigned.

Now that the years have passed by, Hughes and the seniors of 2004 have enjoyed one of the best eras ever in the history of Clayton County high school football.

They've made the playoffs for four straight years, won two region titles (2003 and 2004), went through an undefeated regular season in 2003 and have won 38 games.

"They're special to me," Lovejoy head coach Al Hughes said. "They're my first group to come all the way through. They'll always hold a special place in my heart. We'll always have that bond of being the first group to come through."

Chris Scott, one of the most highly recruited offensive lineman in the state and nation, was one of those freshman players who was with Hughes in 2001.

"It feels good to make it for four years," he said. "Now that it's my senior year, I want it to be even more special."

Defensive back Keith Fitzhugh has also been there since 2001.

"I think it's great," Fitzhugh said. "It's always special and it means the same to me every year. This year, we're going to take it past the second round, go to the Dome and the championship game."

Even though Hughes and these seniors have won many games together and have made it to the playoffs every year, one goal remains elusive ? to get past the second round.

"I think it's great and all but we need to step it up as a team," senior linebacker/punter David McHone said. "We've got to come together as a team and take it to the Dome."

In order to get to the Dome, two obstacles remain for Lovejoy. First off, this Friday, the Wildcats play host to Houston County in the second round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs. If they beat Houston County, they'll have to play on the road against the winner of Parkview-McEachern.

"It has always been on my mind, to play the legendary Parkview," Scott said. "When we have the chance, I think we'll surprise a lot of people."

Even though they definitely want to get a shot at Parkview, Scott and his teammates are not about to take Houston County lightly. Houston County comes into Friday's contest with a 6-4-1 record but its losses have come against Lowndes, Valdosta, Northside-Warner Robins and Peach County.

"Houston County is a good matchup," Scott said. "They're a great program; we're a great program. It's going to be a tough football game and we'll both be ready to play."

Lovejoy started the season with two straight losses but came back to go 7-3 and win the Region 4-AAAAA title. Lovejoy started the playoffs last week with a 24-14 victory over Redan.

"It feels good because a lot of people had doubts about us," senior Darius Thomas said. "We're going to show them we can make it all the way through as a team."