It seems that coach Al Hughes’ Lovejoy program is always in reloading mode as the Wildcats are ranked among the top teams in Class AAAAAA this season. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)
The midway point of the season is here, and teams are beginning to get into the heart of their schedule.
Over the next several weeks, the playoff picture should be clearer.
But before we move on, this is an opportunity to take inventory of the first part of the season.
It’s time to see who is making the grade on the field, so Clayton News Daily sports editor Derrick Mahone is giving his grades to the nine teams in county:
Let’s see who is on point, and which teams need to make a better effort:
Drew: The Titans were in somewhat of a rebuilding year with the graduation of some top players. Injuries have been a key factor in the team’s 0-4 start. Drew started the season with its fifth straight running back and a highly promising freshman linebacker has yet to play a meaningful snap because of injuries. First-year starting quarterback Brandon Pearson has shown promise, but he is without top skill players. Grade: C+
Forest Park: New coach John Diehl has injected some new energy into the program, but that can only take you so far. Running back Dejuan Simms had a breakout game in the team’s lone win against Morrow with 209 yards. The Panthers moved the ball well on the ground against Chattanooga, Morrow and Whitewater, but had trouble in blowout losses to Union Grove and Creekside. Grade: B-
Jonesboro: When most of your skills players have graduated and a big chunk of your offensive line is gone, offensive struggles are bound to happen. This has been the case with the Cardinals this season. Senior Mario Atkinson and Zerrick Cooper are sharing the quarterback duties. At times, Jonesboro has had trouble moving the ball. Their is some talent among the skill players, but they are inexperienced. Grade: C+
Lovejoy: The defense might not be as good as last year’s but it has been solid despite some key early season injuries. Quarterback Quintarius Neely has proven that he is a capable leader despite his youth and inexperience. Neely is surrounded with a solid offensive line and talented skill players, including junior receiver Preston Williams, who recently committed to Tennessee. The Wildcats are expected to get linebacker DeMarquis Gates back at some point, which should help in their playoff run. Grade: A
Morrow: Coach Leroy Foster had his first full offseason with the Mustangs. The team’s lone win was against a winless Locust Grove team. Losing to Forest Park hurts, which had been a victory the last two seasons for the program. Morrow is 0-1 in the region heading into this week’s bye week. Grade: C
Mount Zion: Coming off a one-win season, the Bulldogs were faced with a rebuilding year in coach Ervin Starr’s second go-round. The Bulldogs are starting several players who, a year ago, were playing middle school football. Grade: B-
Mundy’s Mill: After three weeks, it seems running back Rodney Smith is back to his old self. He has put together consecutive games of at least 100 yards. The team is in the same position as last year in coming into its subregion schedule without a win. However, they are confident that they can run the table to secure a playoff berth. If Smith stays healthy, the Tigers have a shot. Grade: C-
North Clayton: Once the pride of the county during its five-year playoff stretch, the Eagles are in their second season of rebuilding mode. First-year coach James Soza inherited a young, inexperienced group that is playing up a classification. The Eagles don’t have a marquee player as it had in the past, and depth has been a problem with low numbers. Grade: B
Riverdale: High expectations were placed on this team after returning several starters from last year’s playoff team. The Raiders come into Saturday’s game against ranked Griffin with only one win on the heels of a pair of blowout losses. However, the team is still 1-0 in the subregion, and a win over Griffin puts them in sole possession of first place. Riverdale still controls its own destiny, but they will have to play with a since of urgency. Grade: C-
Editor’s note: Grades are based on preseason expectations and how teams are actually performing from those expectations.