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Former teammates now region rivals

Photo by Derrick Mahone
Jonesboro's Cedric Nettles (left) will lead his team against No. 8 Lovejoy and former quarterback Alejandro Bennifield on Friday in a Region 4-AAAA matchup at Twelve Oaks Stadium.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Jonesboro's Cedric Nettles (left) will lead his team against No. 8 Lovejoy and former quarterback Alejandro Bennifield on Friday in a Region 4-AAAA matchup at Twelve Oaks Stadium.

Several things have changed since Jonesboro and Lovejoy met last season.

When the two Region 4-AAAA teams played in 2010, Jonesboro was coming off a disappointing loss to a winless Mundy’s Mill squad that pretty much dashed its playoff hopes.

Cedric Nettles was making his first start of the season at quarterback for the Cardinals after starter Alejandro Bennifield was injured in the Mundy’s Mill loss.

A year later, as the teams meet at Twelve Oaks Stadium on Friday, Nettles is still the starting quarterback, but Bennifield is now donning a Lovejoy uniform after his move into that district last spring.

Once teammates, they will lead their undefeated teams against each other in a game where the winner takes over sole possession of first place in the region.

“I’ve been waiting on this for a year, especially after he transferred,” said Nettles, a senior.

Both teams are 6-0 overall and in the region while Lovejoy is riding a 17-game regular-season win streak into the contest.

Nettles and Bennifield, a junior, are both surrounded by an array of talent.

However, their styles are different.

Nettles, who is being looked at by several schools as a defensive back/athlete, is more of a run-first type quarterback, who has developed his passing over the past year. Bennifield, a lefty, has completed nearly 63 percent of his passes.

“Cedric has done an excellent job in being the commander of our offense,” Jonesboro offensive coordinator Nathan Wardlaw said. “He is our leader and he holds every one accountable for their actions, including himself.”

Wardlaw said Nettles, who is also a standout on the school’s baseball team, has done a good job improving his throwing mechanics. Nettles has completed 57 percent of his passes for 651 yards and nine touchdowns.

Immediately after learning of Bennifield’s transfer, Nettles said he realized that he would have to become a more effective passer if the Cardinals’ offense was going to succeed.

“I’ve grown a lot since last season,” Nettles said. “I think my IQ has improved on the offensive side, and I’ve developed the ability to read defenses. I made an effort to set up as a quarterback.”

At the same time, he continues to be a leader on the defensive side of the ball, where he has 47 tackles and three interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown.

“He has worked to get better,” Wardlaw said. “He has developed into a good, solid high school passer.”

At Lovejoy, Bennifield has replaced three-year starter Vic Hardison, and the eighth-ranked Wildcats don’t seem to have missed a beat.

Through the first six games, Bennifield has passed for 745 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Lovejoy coach Al Hughes has commended him on his efforts to quickly pick up the team’s offensive scheme.

“He has come in and picked up a fairly complicated offense,” Hughes said. “He had a great spring and summer where he was able to get his feet wet.”

Nettles Stats Bennifield

6-0 Record 6-0

40 Rushes 37

263 Yards 107

47 of 82 Passes 57 of 91

651 Yards 745

11 Total TDs 11