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It’s better than game day for Lovejoy seniors

Special photo
Lovejoy college signees are Jamal Covington (Charlotte, football), Bria Allen (Georgia Southern, soccer), Rico McWilliams (South Carolina, football), Cheyna Williams (Vanderbilt, soccer), Jermaine Hough (Jacksonville State, football) and Shawn Broughton (Jacksonville State, football).

Special photo Lovejoy college signees are Jamal Covington (Charlotte, football), Bria Allen (Georgia Southern, soccer), Rico McWilliams (South Carolina, football), Cheyna Williams (Vanderbilt, soccer), Jermaine Hough (Jacksonville State, football) and Shawn Broughton (Jacksonville State, football).

If you walked into Lovejoy’s gym on Wednesday with your eyes closed, you might have thought it was still football season.

Loud cheers and crowd chants typically reserved for fall Fridays were all a part of the festive mood as four former Wildcat players signed college football letters-of-intent during National Signing Day.

Coach Al Hughes said he was perhaps even more excited for this day than for a game day.

“This is the best part of my job,” said Hughes, whose team reached the Class AAAA championship game. “I feel like these guys are right up there among the top group of signees we’ve had here. Very talented both on the field and in the classroom.”

The signees include three former starters in arguably the most talented defensive backfield in the state. Rico McWilliams signed with South Carolina over other schools such as Arkansas, Vanderbilt, South Florida and Nebraska, while Jermaine Hough and Dushonta Broughton are both headed to Jacksonville State.

Hough is the Clayton News Daily/Henry Daily Herald Clayton County Player of the Year.

The Wildcats will also be sending offensive tackle Jamal Covington off to Charlotte, which will start playing football during the 2013 season. The success was cause for great celebration, but don’t think this latest class of signees is letting it go to their heads.

“The first thing I have to do is thank God for this opportunity because not many kids get the chance that I have,” McWilliams said. “It’s a great opportunity to leave a great school and go to another one.”

Covington echoed his teammates’ sentiments.

“This is just unbelievable,” the offensive tackle said. “Once in a lifetime. A lot of people don’t get this chance and I’m excited.”

This was not just a day for the athletes to take pride. Students, parents and family members gathered around their loved ones with plenty of hugs, encouraging words and even a few tears. Meanwhile, the entire Lovejoy coaching staff flashed smiles of pride at the fruits of their coaching labor.

“Make no mistake about it,” Hughes said. “The growth of these players was not just a one-man job.

“What you see here is the result of good consistency and continuity with our coaching staff. Our assistant coaches have done a tremendous job getting them ready every day to make them better and to compete.”

The success story of McWilliams is particularly satisfying for secondary coach Jim Lindsay.

“All of these DBs, they were the glue that held this team together, but Rico just became a completely different player from sophomore to junior,” Lindsay said. “When he began here, he played some receiver and in other positions, but he just found a niche when he came over to corner, he just blossomed. Anytime you can coach a kid of this caliber, it is wonderful.”

Hough can attest to the blessings of being in Lindsay’s secondary.

“Coach Lindsay helped us build a good structure as defensive backs,” he said. “It began when they played me early. It just showed that they were really looking for big things out of me.”

To a person, all who have encountered these young men believe that not only are their best days ahead of them, but some of those best days will be seen even off of the football field.

Covington, for example, said his decision was not just about athletics.

“Charlotte has a pretty good meteorology program as well,” he said.

Hughes said he has no reason to believe that next-level success can’t happen quickly for this group.

“All four will have a chance to make an immediate impact on the college level,” he said. “They’re ready. Physically and mentally, they’re absolutely ready.”