By Brian Paglia
Lovejoy football coach Al Hughes called them the group that finally decided enough was enough. No more losing records. Missing the playoffs wasn't an option.
So then everything went according to plan. Lovejoy returned to prominence in Clayton County with a 10-0 regular season, Region 4-AAAA championship and trip to the state playoffs, and several Wildcats secured their college future.
Surrounded by a lively scene inside the school gym, Lovejoy saw a
group of 10 players sign national letters-of-intent Wednesday morning, headlined by defensive lineman David Washington to Kentucky and linebacker/defensive back Leander Williams to Georgia Southern.
Vic Hardison signed with Savannah State; Tyler Hunt and Jevon Watson signed with Fort Valley State; Nic Smith signed with Clark Atlanta; Josh Walker signed with Tuskegee; Lamont Hardy signed with Arizona Western College; Daniel Ormsby signed with Dean College; and Mubarak Bin-asadi signed with Atlanta Sports Academy.
"They had good chemistry together," Hughes said. "They believed in each other and they worked hard together. That made all the difference in the world."
There was the possibility that group could have been the third straight senior class to leave Lovejoy without experiencing a winning season, a far cry from Lovejoy's apex from 1997-2004 when the Wildcats missed the state playoffs just once and won three region championships.
Many from this senior class played in starting roles as freshmen and sophomores, going 3-7 and 4-6 while in Region 4-AAAAA. With a large senior class and a move down to AAAA, the stakes were high for Lovejoy entering this past season.
"My sophomore and junior years we didn't have that good of a season. Usually a lot of guys get recruited in their junior year," Hardison said. "So in order for us to get into a school we knew we had to have a spectacular season."
Hardison took care of the offense, eventually winning region offensive player of the year honors, while Washington, Williams, Bin-asadi and Walker anchored a tough defense.
Together, they returned Lovejoy to the top.
"We knew when it was our time to step up we were going to bring Lovejoy back around," Washington said. "We always kind of had a little chip on our shoulder, like we were going to be one of the best classes to come through here. And we proved it this past season."
"This group was the group that just said enough is enough. We want to be back to the way it used to be," Hughes said. "They just all got together with good chemistry and worked it out."
Hughes said as many as five more players might sign in the coming days, which would push Lovejoy's number of signees to 15. The most for a senior class at Lovejoy is 17, in 2003.
This group of 10 added to the 143 players Lovejoy has signed to play college football in the past 11 seasons, continuing the Wildcats' well-established tradition.
"It's a great program with great tradition," Washington said. "We had a couple of tough years, but eventually everything turned back around."