Photo by Brian Paglia
Lovejoy senior Jamal Covington made a seamless transition from the offensive line on the football team to the No. 1 doubles pair on the tennis team.
From August to December, Jamal Covington fit right in on the high school football field. His 6-foot-4, 260-pound frame, crouched at the line of scrimmage in helmet and shoulder pads, doesn’t strike a chord of shock at Lovejoy. For the Wildcats football team, he is the prototype, one they’ve filled time after time.
Since early February, the Wildcats senior has stood out on the high school tennis court. That same 6-foot-4, 260-pound frame, gliding across asphalt, engenders a blend of amusement and awe. For the Wildcats tennis team, he is an anomaly, one they might not see again for awhile.
Covington joined the boys tennis team for two simple reasons — with several friends on the team, he wanted to make the most of his senior year and stay in shape for playing college football next season at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
“I wanted to really enjoy the rest of my senior year, just have fun,” Covington said, “and I felt like tennis was a great option for me. It’s good for my footwork, and it keeps me in shape and stuff.”
But, he’s turned out to be a critical part of Lovejoy’s success.
As half of the Wildcats’ No. 1 doubles pair, Covington has helped Lovejoy build off last season’s state-tournament appearance and 13-4 record. The Wildcats were 12-2 entering Wednesday’s match against Mundy’s Mill, 8-0 in Region 4-AAAA and ranked No. 10 in the latest PrepCountry.com Class AAAA Coaches Poll.
Not bad for someone who just took up the sport over the summer ... for the first time in his life.
“I picked it up pretty quick,” Covington said. “I think it’s an advantage that I have being an athlete.”
Covington is indeed athletic. He proved that the past four seasons on Lovejoy’s football team.
As a junior in 2010, he participated in the RisingSeniors.com Junior Bowl, a showcase for the top talent in Georgia. This past season, he anchored the offensive line for a team that went 14-1 and reached the Class AAAA championship, where it lost to Tucker.
He recalled playing tennis many summer mornings on the courts near his home with Valario White Jr., Devonte Thorne, Joseph Messam II and other members of the boys tennis team. They marvelled at how this mammoth athlete took to the sport so easily.
“He was just stroking it, without any lessons,” White Jr. said. “He’s done very well. He’s a good volleyer, good baseline hitter. For his first year, he’s doing pretty good.”
Covington’s also been pleased with his performance this season.
He’s been able to overcome his one glaring weakness — his backhand — with brute strength. He relishes when opponents place short drop shots to test the hefty offensive lineman’s speed. He’s learned to anticipate when opponents will hit the ball low to make him crouch uncomfortably.
And after a summer’s worth of casual play, he’s learned to mesh with doubles partner Erick Banuelos to form a strong duo.
“We’ve picked up a lot of chemistry,” Covington said. “In certain situations, like when the ball is hit a certain way, we know how to adjust. It was new to me, but I kind of picked up on it quick.”
Covington’s senior year may be quickly coming to a close, but the Wildcats appear able to make the most of it. They’re the favorites to win the Region 4-AAAA championship and host a first-round state-tournament match for the second straight season.
Behind the senior trio of White Jr., Messam II and Ricky Grace, Lovejoy feels it can redeem itself after last season’s first-round loss.
If not, it’s already been a memorable season for Covington.
“It’s been a blast,” Covington said. “I’ve just really enjoyed playing the sport.”