The names and years rolled off Craig Chatman’s lips with ease.
Asked about the legacy that new Lovejoy starter Quintarius Neely had to follow as Lovejoy’s starting quarterback this season, Chatman began naming who came before his sophomore starter.
There have been all-state players. Record-setting performers. Future college starts. And even Ivy League players.
Then, Chatman got to his own name, and let out a chuckle.
“I might have been the worst of that bunch,” he joked.
Well, he might have been only half serious, but that is probably up for debate.
Regardless, there is no question that the quarterback position in the Wildcats program holds some prestige. When you have several players who have earned Div. I scholarships, in addition to owning region championship rings, there are some high expectations.
By nature, the quarterback spot is one of high prestige, and at Lovejoy, it goes to another level.
If you don’t believe me, listen to Wildcats star wide receiver Preston Williams on what new starter Quintarius Neely is up against this season.
“He is held to a high standard,” Williams said with a straight face following a practice this week.
That standard is standing and commanding a huddle that includes some of the top talent in the state. It can be an intimidating task for a sophomore, who has yet to start a real varsity game on the Class AAAAAA level.
But not for Neely, a transfer from Atlanta’s Mays High. Not for a player who guided his ninth-grade team to an 8-0 record, and who was a standout on his middle school team at Mundy’s Mill.
His task is to lead the fourth-ranked Wildcats to a fourth straight region title, and perhaps another shot at the state title. His predecessor Alejandro Bennifield had an amazing 27-4 record, including consecutive appearances in the state finals at the Georgia Dome.
Lovejoy has won 27 straight region games.
For Neely, it’s a challenge he’s looking forward to.
“I’ve played on winning teams all my life,” he calmly said.
And it appears he has gotten winning down to a science already. Last week, Lovejoy defeated Peachtree Ridge, the No. 10 team in AAAAAA on the road.
The “real” games start next Friday against rival Mundy’s Mill. And then the first big test comes on Sept. 6 when the Wildcats make the trek to Moultrie to take on No. 2 Colquitt County in what is expected to be a hostile environment. A stop at Alpharetta and a home game against East Coweta come before jumping into the Region 2-AAAAAA schedule.
We will know before the end of September if Lovejoy and its new quarterback are the real deal once again.
Coach Al Hughes believes so.
Ask him about Neely, and the veteran coach displays a slight smile.
“We are good to go at the quarterback spot,” Hughes said.
The coach likens him to former Wildcat standout Kisan Flakes, who had an all-state career before going on to Illinois and Albany State as a quarterback.
Pretty lofty company for someone that hasn’t played a varsity down in the Columbia blue and gold uniform. But you have to trust Hughes, who has coached his share of standout players.
And apparently he trusts this sophomore with his team.
Derrick Mahone is the sports editor of the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter? @DerrickMahone_.