Quintarius Neely has been named the starting quarterback for three-time defending region champion Lovejoy this season. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)
HAMPTON — Quintarius Neely has accomplished the hard part. Now the sophomore must master the even tougher part of being named the starting quarterback at Lovejoy.
Last week, the Mays High transfer was named as the starting quarterback for the three-time defending region champion and two-time state runner-up. Being the quarterback at Lovejoy is already hard because of its complex offensive scheme, but add to that the legacy of the previous starters to the mix, and Neely has some big shoes to fill.
But Neely seems poised for the challenge.
“There is always a lot of pressure in being the quarterback,” Neely said. “I’m not bothered by it. I know what I got to do. I’m used to playing on winning teams.”
This time last year, Neely was a freshman at Mays High in Atlanta, where he led the ninth-grade team to an 8-0 season.
But what awaits him this season is a step up in competition with the likes of neighborhood rival Mundy’s Mill on Aug. 30 followed by a road trip to No. 2 Colquitt County on Sept. 6.
Neely seemed to pass the first test on the Wildcats schedule when he led the varsity team to a win at No. 10 Peachtree Ridge last week in a scrimmage.
Lovejoy comes into the season having won 27 straight region games.
Lovejoy coach Al Hughes compares Neely to former Wildcat standout Kisan Flakes, who is a former classification player of the year. Flakes played for the Wildcats from 2002-03, leading them to a 20-4 during his all-state career.
“We are good to go with him at quarterback,” Hughes said. “He has a lot of savvy, and a calm demeanor. He really doesn’t panic that much under pressure.”
Like his predecessor Alejandro Bennifield, who is now a freshman at Tennessee-Chattanooga, Neely will be surrounded by some talented skill players such as running back Jeremiah Kirkland and wide receiver Preston Williams. Kirkland is also a transfer.
The senior played last season at Landmark Christian, where he rushed for 2,052 yards and 29 touchdowns for the Class A school in Fairburn. Williams was injured most of last year, but his talents have drawn interest from the likes of the two-time defending NCAA champion Alabama Crimson Tide’s coaching staff.
Neely, who is nicknamed “Mays” by his teammates, is from the area as he played middle school football at Mundy’s Mill Middle before relocating to the Mays district as a freshman. The majority of his teammates say they have 100 percent confidence in the young signal-caller.
“He has to step up and be that head coach on the field,” Williams said. “He is held to a high standard, because he is the quarterback of the team. We’ve got a lot of confidence in Mays. We trust him.”
Coming out of spring drills last May, Neely seemed the leader of the pack among two other quarterback candidates. But during the summer workouts, the quarterback race opened again when the coaching staff began to open the playbook more.
Neely headed to fall preseason camp in a battle with Cameron Hill and Khalil Rogers for the starting job. Hill was Bennifield’s backup last season, and Rogers started on the team’s JV squad, but played some on the varsity.
While Neely is the starter, all three will see action this fall, according to offensive coordinator Craig Chatman.
“It was a long and hard battle for the spot,” Neely said. “It wasn’t like we were enemies. This decision was up to the coaches.”
And they seem to like what they saw in Neely.
“The competition was great, and we anticipate it to continue throughout the season,” said Chatman, who is a former starting quarterback for the Wildcats in the mid-1990s.
“Right now, we are going with him,” he continued. “We were very pleased with all the players. In our system, we coach them hard, and expect a lot out of them. I’m an emotional and loud guy, and I told him to get used to it. I’m going to yell at him, because when I was here it happened to me.”