Photo by Gabriel Stovall
Lovejoy wide receiver Tremaine Dillard (left), quarterback Alejandro Bennifield and coach Al Hughes watch the Wildcats defense during a Tuesday passing league session at the school. The Wildcats will head to Virginia this weekend to play in another passing league.
Lovejoy coach Al Hughes has been preaching “unfinished business” to his Wildcats for the past couple of years.
But this summer, it’s not just about preparing to win a state title. For Hughes, some of Lovejoy’s unfinished business begins this week at the University of Virginia’s Passing League Tournament.
The Wildcats, who finished as Class AAAA runner-up last season, have been competing in Charlottesville, Va., the last six years. They have brought home a couple titles from the tournament.
Unfortunately, last summer Lovejoy lost in the finals, which didn’t sit too well with the team.
“That left a bitter taste in some of our guys’ mouths and we’re anxious to get back up there and redeem ourselves,” Hughes said.
Lovejoy will carry some momentum to Virginia after winning the sixth annual Southside Shootout Summer Passing League championship last week at Locust Grove High.
And though the teams in Virginia may lack some of the speed and athleticism that Hughes and company are familiar with in Georgia, Hughes said those teams find ways to make up for their lack of fleet feet.
“The team that beat us last year, when we saw them warming up, we looked and thought we’d matchup pretty well,” Hughes said. “They weren’t the fastest or most physically talented bunch, but they were the most consistent. They didn’t get out of position. They ran great routes and never dropped the ball. They make up for a lack of speed by being perfect in everything they do.”
Hughes counts last year’s tournament as a learning experience for his bunch. This year they’ll be ready, he said.
“They just had a different type of discipline than maybe what we’re used to seeing here (in Georgia),” Hughes said. “We’re going back this year with a better understanding.”
And confidence, says rising senior wide receiver A.J. Jackson, who has committed to Auburn.
“This tournament will give us a big time boost,” Jackson said. “We’re going up there and we’re playing the best of the best. These are three, four and five star players. But we feel like at Lovejoy we’ve got the best of the best as well.”
But it’s not just all about revenge and beating the other team for Lovejoy. Rising senior quarterback Alejandro Bennifield said that passing league tournaments go a long way in pushing teams to another level.
“These are great for me because it helps me improve my arm,” Bennifield said. “It also helps my receivers. They get more confident and I get more confident. They’ll know where I want them to be and it just increases our bond.”
Not only do the offensive skill players get valuable reps in during these times, but rising senior linebacker Nathaniel Norwood said the passing leagues give defenders a chance to perfect their coverage schemes and techniques.
“That’s important because when it’s fourth quarter and a team is down, that’s when our coverage skills get tested,” Norwood said. “Working on it in the summer just makes us so much better in pass covering, footwork drills and just conditioning as well. We’ve still got to get stronger, faster and better, but this is what the offseason is for. These are the things that make us ready.”