HAMPTON — The names are a little different, but it was evident that there was some talent on the Lovejoy practice field.
All offseason, Wildcats coach Al Hughes was trying to tell everyone who would listen that the cupboard wasn’t bare. For the next 10 days, he will put his team on display as they go through their annual spring drills.
Floods of college coaches have made their pilgrimage to the Class AAAAAA school, which finished as state runner-up last season. Gone are Travis Custis, Zane Fields, Nathaniel Norwood, JuMichael Ramos and Brandon Davis to name a few of the former standout Wildcats.
While actually most have been on the field helping coach-up their replacements.
“I think a lot of people have underestimated us,” Fields said while watching a defensive drill. “These younger players have now stepped up. They were playing behind us.”
The us word was no accident. These former players will always, as Hughes would say, be a Wildcat.
But the next generation of Wildcat players are ready to leave their mark.
After reaching the state finals the last two seasons, this group seems poised to carry on the legacy.
A steady stream of college coaches have made their way to Hughes’ office to inquire about this season’s talent pool. For a second day of practice, Lovejoy looked as if it was preparing for a state playoff game.
Almost every drill was a live drill. And mistakes came with a steep penalty.
Either you did “up-downs” or pushups for mistakes, blown assignments or dropped passes.
“How we look for a second day of practice?,” Hughes casually asked an assistant from Indiana University.
The Lovejoy program has reached the point were athletes want to play there. Just about every piece of equipment was used to outfit a varsity and junior varsity squads.
During the offseason, Hughes saw an influx of about four transfers that could help fill the void left by graduation. The marquee of which is probably former Landmark Christian running back Jeremiah Kirkland.
Last season, he rushed for 2,052 yards and 27 touchdowns.
He will get a shot at replacing record-setting running back Travis Custis, who is headed to Georgia Tech.
Kirkland doesn’t have any college offers yet, but Hughes is confident that will change because of his 4.39-second speed in the 40-yard dash.
“He has about 20 schools looking at him,” Hughes said. “He has SEC-type speed.”
And the Wildcats can use it as they break in a new quarterback for the upcoming season.
Anybody that overlooks Lovejoy could be in for a surprise.
“Hopefully people will overlook us,” Hughes said.
And that would be a big mistake.
Derrick Mahone is the sports editor of the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.