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Lovejoy football has tools to contend again

Photo by Derrick Mahone
Lovejoy coach Al Hughes calls a play during Tuesday’s second day of spring drills. The Wildcats are 140 days removed from playing in the Class AAAAAA championship game at the Georgia Dome.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Lovejoy coach Al Hughes calls a play during Tuesday’s second day of spring drills. The Wildcats are 140 days removed from playing in the Class AAAAAA championship game at the Georgia Dome.

HAMPTON — Many things have changed at Lovejoy in the 140 days since it played for the Class AAAAAA title.

The Wildcats had one of their best senior classes to sign scholarships in early February.

With that graduation class that played for consecutive state titles, many would think Lovejoy would be going through a rebuilding year come this fall.

Think again.

Yes, some big-name players are gone, but several returning players and some key transfers could have the Wildcats challenging again for AAAAAA supremacy.

Lovejoy returns nearly seven players on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball because it played several players during the season.

And a big-name transfer in running back Jeremiah Kirkland will likely replace standout running back Travis Custis. Last season at Landmark Christian, Kirkland rushed for 2,052 yards and 27 touchdowns.

“When you watch him play and evaluate him, you can see that he has SEC type of speed,” Lovejoy coach Al Hughes said. “He can flat out play, and he is a good young man.”

Kirkland is no stranger to Lovejoy. He played middle school football at nearby Lovejoy Middle School before entering Landmark Christian.

“All the guys know him, so he will fit right in,” Hughes said.

Lovejoy opened spring practice on Monday to the excitement of its players and fans. A large group of parents and siblings gathered near the practice field as Hughes took the group through spring drills.

He said several college coaches have stopped by the school throughout the day evaluating film on rising seniors and underclassmen.

“It’s been a steady stream the last two days,” Hughes said.

Because of ACL surgery in February, standout linebacker DeMarquis Gates will not be able to participate in spring drills. Earlier this year, he committed to Ole Miss.

“I’m disappointed that I can’t be out there,” Gates said. “I almost cried.”

With Gates out, it has allowed other players to gain valuable reps in drills.

One of the biggest position battles is at quarterback where standout Alejandro Bennifield has graduated. Hughes said that three players are locked into a battle.

Returning players Cameron Hill and Khalil Rogers are battling with Mays High transfer Quinton Neely.

“He (Neely) brings a lot to the table,” Hughes said. “This quarterback battle is a good thing.”

Besides some new players on the defensive side, Edgar Carson is now the defensive coordinator after Kevin Jones took the head coaching job at Dutchtown.

“We haven’t missed a beat,” Hughes said. “This package that we run has been in place for a long time. Coach Jones put his stamp on it, and now coach Carson will be in charge.”