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Lovejoy has bright outlook for 2012

Jeff Hurndon Photography Travis Custis (22), who rushed for 1,839 yards and 30 touchdowns this season, will be one of eight returning offensive starters back in 2012 for the Lovejoy Wildcats, who finished as state runner-up in Class AAAA. 

Jeff Hurndon Photography Travis Custis (22), who rushed for 1,839 yards and 30 touchdowns this season, will be one of eight returning offensive starters back in 2012 for the Lovejoy Wildcats, who finished as state runner-up in Class AAAA. 

Moments after accepting the Class AAAA runner-up trophy, Lovejoy coach Al Hughes began reciting the many positives his team accomplished throughout the 2011 season.

As he sat in the utility cart talking with reporters following his team’s 22-7 loss to top-ranked Tucker in the Georgia Dome, Hughes rolled off a list that included consecutive undefeated regular seasons and the school’s first trip to the state finals.

But Hughes let it be known that his team never had the attitude that they were just happy to be in the finals. He said they came to the Georgia Dome with one mission, and they didn’t complete the task.

“The pain is there, I promise you,” Hughes said.

After a little weeping, the Wildcats can turn their attention to the 2012 season. With the return of eight starters on each side of the ball, Lovejoy figures to again be a playoff contender.

Even moving up two classifications shouldn’t be a problem for the Wildcats, who have several college prospects in their talented junior class.

Hughes said there should be plenty of motivation to carry the team through the offseason.

“Our business is still not complete,” he said. “We came here to be state champions, but we ran into a great football team.”

Here is a look at Lovejoy in 2012:

What to expect in 2012: With the Georgia High School Association new re-classification going into effect next school year, Lovejoy was placed in the newly-created Class AAAAAA. The Wildcats will compete in Region 2-AAAAAA, which also includes Luella, Morrow, Alcovy, Druid Hills, Newton and Rockdale. In addition to its region games, Lovejoy will play four non-region games, and Hughes has indicated the team will seek some strong competition. With the return of 16 starters, the Wildcats will again be a state contender.

Who has to be replaced: Of the six starters that the team graduates, the toughest positions will be the secondary, where three of the four starters will be gone. All three will sign college scholarships, but the toughest to replace might be Jermaine Hough, who provided game-changing plays in playoff wins over Kell and Warner Robins.

Who’s back: The majority of the defense that held opponents to a 3.6-point average, the lowest in Class AAAA. One of the main defensive weapons, linebacker Nathaniel Norwood, will be back. On the offensive end, Wildcats return quarterback Alejandro Bennifield and 1,000-yard rusher Travis Custis. Both figure to be Div. I prospects along with 6-foot-6 receiver A.J. Jackson, who had three touchdown receptions in the team’s last two games.