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Lovejoy boasts state's top defensive unit

Photo by Derrick Mahone
Lovejoy defensive coordinator Kevin Jones is the architect of the top-ranked defense in Class AAAAAA heading into Friday’s semifinals against North Cobb.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Lovejoy defensive coordinator Kevin Jones is the architect of the top-ranked defense in Class AAAAAA heading into Friday’s semifinals against North Cobb.

HAMPTON — The defensive starters at Lovejoy are always looking over their shoulders.

As good as the unit has been — tops in the state in the highest classification — each player knows that one slip up could cost them.

“You have to step up your game, or coach will be quick to pull you,” said senior linebacker Veion Robinson, who has committed to Middle Tennessee State.

“It’s to the sideline if you are messing up,” grinned coach Al Hughes.

But the Wildcats’ defense is no laughing matter. Especially to their opponents.

Lovejoy, which takes on North Cobb on Friday in the Class AAAAAA semifinals, has the top scoring defense as it gives up only seven points per game.

The Wildcats have four shutouts this season.

“This is a fun group to watch,” Hughes said. “Our defensive staff has done a tremendous job in getting them in the right position to be successful.”

The most points the team has given up was 24 in a win over Alpharetta in Game 3 of the season. Only three other teams have scored in double figures, two coming in the last two weeks.

“We play with a little chip on our shoulders,” said Robinson, who has 50 tackles and five sacks.

Defensive coordinator Kevin Jones credits his unit’s speed with giving them a big advantage. As a team, the Wildcats have 13 interceptions, returning five for touchdowns. Brandon Davis, a first-year starter, has returned four interceptions for scores, including a pair of 100-plus yarders.

Jones’ unit has 153 tackles for loss and 54.5 sacks heading into the North Cobb game.

“This group is really fast and quick,” Jones said. “They really like to get after it. Sometimes in practice we have to tone them down. They go full speed all the time.”

Another advantage that Jones’ defense has is that it practices each day against one of the top offenses in the state. Lovejoy is averaging 42 points a game with an offense that features a pair of big-time playmakers in wide receivers Arshad Jackson and JuMichael Ramos and running back Travis Custis. All three have committed to Division I schools.

Custis has rushed for 1,766 yards and 30 touchdowns while quarterback Alejandro Bennifield has thrown for 2,183 yards and 26 touchdowns.

“It works both ways for our guys in terms of iron sharpening iron,” Jones said. “If our offensive line can block our defense, they should be able to hold their own on Friday nights. If Alejandro can make throws against our defensive backs, he should be able to do it on Friday nights. This is probably why we have had so much success.”