Photo by Derrick Mahone
Lovejoy quarterback Alejandro Bennifield passed for 730 yards last season as the starter at Jonesboro. He transferred last spring to Lovejoy, which is the defending Region 4-AAAA champions.
When Lovejoy coach Al Hughes was breaking down film last season of Jonesboro, he was quite impressed with what he saw of their quarterback Alejandro Bennifield.
The then-sophomore wasn’t able to play in the Jonesboro-Lovejoy game last season because of an injury. Hughes never was able to see Bennifield play in person, but all that has changed this season.
Hughes now gets to work with Bennifield everyday.
The Bennifields moved into the Lovejoy district last spring, and the junior is the starting quarterback for the Wildcats this season.
“He has really stepped up,” Hughes said. “He is a phenomenal athlete.”
It seems like perfect timing for Bennifield.
Vic Hardison, a three-year starter at quarterback, graduated this spring after leading the Wildcats to the Region 4-AAAA championship. Senior Jermaine Hough was being counting on to play quarterback, although his natural position is defensive back.
But now, Hough doesn’t have to worry about double-duty for the Wildcats.
Bennifield, a 6-foot-3 lefty, has taken over the quarterback spot. Last season, he passed for 730 yards in seven games for Jonesboro. With its entire receiving corps back, Bennifield numbers will likely increase this season, if he stays healthy.
“I’m definitely looking forward to this season,” he said. “We have a good team over here at Lovejoy. I think we will win a lot of games.”
Last season, the Wildcats went undefeated during the regular season, but lost in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs.
Bennifield has quickly picked up the Wildcats’ spread offense, which is similar to what he ran at Jonesboro. A big difference for Bennifield is that Lovejoy utilizes a lot of no-huddle in its offensive approach.
“He has taken to it real quick,” Lovejoy offensive coordinator Craig Chatman said. “We do a lot of things with our offense. Between spring practice, summer workouts and fall practice, he has been able to make a lot of progress.”
Bennifield credits Chatman with much of his accelerated progress in learning the offense. “I did a lot of one-on-one with coach Chatman,” he said. “We have stayed after practice and worked on it.”
The quarterback will have to operate behind a revamped offensive line.
But with skill players Travis Custis returning at running back and wide receiver Arshad Jackson, a 6-foot-6 junior, back, Bennifield will not have to shoulder the entire offensive load.
Defensively, the Wildcats are having to fill the void left by standout linemen David Washington and Josh Walker, who are now freshmen in college. Washington signed with Kentucky while Walker is at Tuskegee.
Hughes said he feels comfortable with the replacement he has on the defensive line.
“We played a lot of young kids last season,” Hughes said.
The secondary should be in good shape with Hough and Rico McWilliams providing leadership. Hough has several college offers, including one from the Air Force Academy. He was the starting point guard on the school’s basketball team, which stayed ranked the majority of last season before losing in the state playoffs.
McWilliams has committed to play for the defending SEC East Champion South Carolina next season.
Wildcats at a glance
2010: 10-1, lost in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs to Glynn Academy.
Coach: Al Hughes (67-43 at Lovejoy, 82-78 overall)
Returning offensive starters: 6
Moving the ball: If a revamped offensive line can jell, the Wildcats have some of the best skill players in the region. Running back Travis Custis and wideout Arshad Jackson will help take some pressure off quarterback Alejandro Bennifield.
Returning defensive starters: 6
Making the stops: Hughes is confident that he has replacements for playmakers David Washington, Leander Williams and Josh Walker. The secondary is solid with Rico McWilliams and Jermaine Hough.
It will be a good year if: The offensive line jells and the Wildcats stay away from injuries.
Playoff chances: Excellent. The Wildcats have the perfect mix of size, talent and speed to repeat as region champs.