Photo by Derrick Mahone
Wide receiver Preston Williams will be among the 12 Lovejoy players representing Al Hughes' squad in a national tournament in Ohio this weekend.
HAMPTON — Twelve members of the Lovejoy football team will be representing the area at the National Football League’s High School Development National 7-on-7 tournament in Cleveland, Ohio, this weekend.
The annual event is something that Lovejoy coach Al Hughes has wanted his team to participate in for some time, but the Wildcats’ summer schedule has rarely allowed it, until now.
“The dates just never worked out for us in the past,” said Hughes, whose team is coming off of back-to-back appearances in state championship games. “This year, the qualifying tournament was held at Dutchtown which is close to us, and gave us an opportunity to make it.”
The Wildcats won the qualifier, which netted them the opportunity to represent Georgia in the four-day tournament which includes teams from across the country.
The NFLHSPD is an all expenses paid trip for some of the nation’s elite high school football programs that, in addition to 7-on-7 non-contact play, includes character development sessions, speakers and small group breakouts.
Hughes called it “a great all around opportunity” that could only have been made better if more of his players could have gone. The tournament limits teams to just 12 players and two coaches.
“You wish you could take all of your kids with you because you know they’re going to have the experience of a lifetime up there,” Hughes said. “We just hope they’ll bring that back here to us and share with us those experiences from playing against different kinds of competition from all over the nation.”
Lovejoy will use the tournament to continue developing its trio of quarterbacks, Khaleel Rodgers, Cameron Hill and Quentarius Neely. Each player is battling to be the Wildcats’ starter with the graduation of Alejandro Bennifield, who lead the team to consecutive appearances in the state finals.
Bennifield is now a freshman at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
“All three of those guys have something they could offer,” Hughes said. “If we could push them all together to make one guy, we’d have what we need. It’s still a little early at this point to determine [a frontrunner], but each player could plug in and make us a better football team.”
Hughes said the portion of his squad still in Georgia is continuing to work hard as preparations for fall become more crucial — even in the absence of the Cleveland 12. The first day teams are allowed to put on the pads in practice is less than a month away.
“We’ve got 52 guys still out here on this side of the world working hard and doing what they have to do to get us ready to be successful this season,” Hughes said.