Photo by Derrick Mahone
Lovejoy wide receiver Preston Williams is healthy and ready to make up for lost time.
HAMPTON — Last season, in between many references to the large collection of talent that littered Lovejoy’s football roster, another name would slip out of coach Al Hughes’ mouth.
After his praise for proven studs like Travis Custis, Alejandro Bennifield, Arshad Jackson, Randy Robinson and Nathaniel Norwood, Hughes would make sure to speak glowingly about another individual not as visible on the field.
His stats weren’t daunting. His field presence wasn’t obvious. His name wasn’t regularly found in press clippings that recounted gridiron heroics under the Friday night lights.
It wasn’t his fault though. Before the second game of the season, Williams broke his pelvic bone. It was an injury that sidelined him for the rest of Lovejoy’s Class AAAAAA runner-up season.
Ask him about how it impacted him to have to miss playing in that 2012 title game, though, and it’s not something he’s reserved many words for.
He said he has a different focus.
“We just want to get back this year,” Williams said. “There’s nothing we can do about what happened last year, but it has motivated us to go back and do it again.”
Williams said his pelvic bone is “about 98 percent” healed, and judging by some of the crisp routes and his pursuit for jump balls during recent 7-on-7 passing league action at Lovejoy, it’s easy to see why Hughes was raving about his missing receiver.
“He’s a game changer out there,” Hughes said. “He’s long; he can go up and get the ball. He was probably the fastest guy on the team last year before he got hurt.”
And that’s saying something, considering the kind of quicks Lovejoy regularly displayed on both sides of the ball in its 13-2 season last year.
But now with much of that senior leadership gone from back-to-back state title runs, Williams — a rising junior — will shift his role from student to teacher, as he helps a fresh crop of new faces and young talent get acclimated to the Wildcat way.
“We know a lot of people may see what we lost, but we’ve got a lot of good younger guys who just need to get coached up a bit,” Williams said.
For instance, Lovejoy is in the midst of a four-man battle at quarterback between Lovejoy veterans Cameron Hill and Khalil Rogers and newcomers Quentarius Neely and Christian Brown.
Williams said each quarterback has his own set of strengths and places to improve. But the goal is to help each settle in to become efficient playmakers in the Lovejoy offense.
“It’s like Neely has a good arm and feet, but he’s working on improving his vision. Khalil shows those flashes of excellence, but he’s just trying to be consistent,” he said.
And as for himself, the 6-foot-4 wideout said he’s gotten better with his feet and technique in route running, and in positioning himself to make grabs in traffic across the middle of the field.
“We’re all just working hard to get things right,” Williams said.
“That’s why we come out here to work [at 7-on-7s]. It helps make us better.”
Despite not playing any meaningful minutes since 2012, Williams has shown enough to garner a variety of recruiting interest. Georgia, Georgia Tech Alabama, Arkansas, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Tennessee are among the myriad schools that have offered for his services.
Williams’ father, Antonio, played for Alabama, so it isn’t a surprise that the Crimson Tide are in his top three.
But thoughts of the next level can wait. Williams said there’s still unfinished business to attend to at his current place.
“We just trying to get back to finish what we started,” he said. “And I’m trying to be more of a leader on this team to help us do it.”