Offensive line quietly paving Lovejoy’s way

Photo by Gabriel Stovall
Lovejoy coach Al Hughes calls Randy Robinson the “quarterback or point guard” of the seventh-ranked Wildcats’ dominating offensive line.

Photo by Gabriel Stovall Lovejoy coach Al Hughes calls Randy Robinson the “quarterback or point guard” of the seventh-ranked Wildcats’ dominating offensive line.

HAMPTON — Perhaps the only way to get five guys who’s average height and weight is 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds to go unnoticed is to put them on the Lovejoy offensive line.

The seventh-ranked Wildcats have all-region — and perhaps all-state — caliber skill players littered across the field. Six Division I college football commitments dot the Wildcats roster, including Lovejoy all-time leading rusher and Georgia Tech commitment Travis Custis.

North Cobb at Lovejoy

When, where: Today, 7:30 p.m. at Twelve Oaks Stadium in Hampton

Records, seeding: North Cobb is 11-2 and the No. 2 seed from Region 4-AAAAAA. No. 7 Lovejoy is 12-1 and the No. 1 seed from Region 2-AAAAAA.

Scouting report: Lovejoy is just one win away from its second straight trip to the Georgia Dome to play for a state championship. The Wildcats defense, salty all season long, is giving up just 11 points a game during the postseason. North Cobb has won six straight after suffering a 47-29 loss to McEachern. The Warriors will be making their first trip to the semifinals since 1959. North Cobb dual threat quarterback Tyler Queen has scored 41 total touchdowns this season — 22 through the air and 19 rushing. Lovejoy running back Travis Custis has 1,756 yards and 30 touchdowns.

What’s next: Winner plays the Colquitt County-Norcross winner in the Class AAAAAA championship game.

The defense has been lauded by defensive coordinator Kevin Jones as one of the fastest and most ferocious bunch he’s been around.

But Montell Robinson (right tackle), Mike Jones (right guard), Randy Robinson (center), Malcolm Johnson (left guard) and Justin Brown (left tackle) are perhaps the five biggest reasons why Lovejoy is just one win away from earning a trip to the Georgia Dome to play for the Class AAAAAA title.

Yet, nobody is really talking about them.

And they don’t seem to mind.

“We don’t trip over that,” Johnson said. “That just kind of goes with the territory. Winning is the most important thing for us.”

Offensive line coach Mark Carter agreed, saying that no news is often good news for an offensive line.

“It’s the nature of the beast when you play this position,” Carter said. “All the work you do goes unnoticed until it’s not getting done. When you make a lot of mistakes up there, you’ll hear about it very quickly.”

And while the line was pretty decent last year, paving the way for Custis to rush for 1,839 yards and 30 touchdowns, Hughes said it is evident that the unit has done a lot of growing since then.

“These guys were babies last year,” Hughes said. “They just got a year older and their experience level has increased.”

Take sophomore center Randy Robinson as an example. Both Hughes and Johnson said he is the glue that holds the unit together, and it has been that way since late last season when he gained confidence after being the first freshman offensive linemen ever to start for a Hughes-coached team.

“Randy played all 15 games for us as a freshman last year, but by the time we got to the end of the season he wasn’t a freshman anymore,” Hughes said. “He’s just a phenomenal player.”

Hughes said the center is like the “quarterback or point guard of the offensive line.” This means Robinson makes all of the protection calls and is among the first person expected to identify the types of blitzes a defense may be about to unleash.

The cruciality of it all increases, says Johnson, when you consider the pace Lovejoy likes to maintain on offense.

“We run a hurry up, no huddle,” Johnson said. “The plays and everything are coming so fast, and we have to be ready to pick it up. Randy just kind of gets everybody where they need to be.”

Robinson said he understands the pressure involved in his pivotal role in the trenches. But he’s not overwhelmed by it.

“If someone misses a block, they’ll look at me,” he said. “That’s because if I mess up, the whole line messes up. It’s a big responsibility but a great honor.”

Although the Wildcats lost last season standout Jamal Covington to graduation, Hughes said he had a feeling that the rest of the line was setting up for a breakout year, given that everyone else was returning.

And the commitment to unity didn’t just begin at the season’s first game. Hughes said it started in winter conditioning and in spring ball. Not to mention the film room where Robinson estimates they watched about seven full length games a week during the offseason.

It’s because Hughes knew even then how important the offensive line’s success would be to their chances of getting back to the Dome and erasing the memories of last year’s 22-7 loss to Tucker in the Class AAAA state championship game.

“We told them right off the bat that we would go as far as they wanted us to,” Hughes said.

And the way they’ve been opening holes for Custis, who has rushed for over 1,700 yards this season, and protected quarterback Alejandro Bennifield, it seems safe to say the group is committed to closing the door on last season’s disappointment.

“We block for Travis because we love him,” Johnson said. “We take it personally when we protect our quarterback. We don’t want him hurt. We want Trav to get those highlights. We want to be able to keep on winning.”