Junior Khaleel Rogers has passed for 395 yards and five touchdown for the third-ranked Lovejoy Wildcats. He took over as the starter after an injury to Quintarius Neely. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)
HAMPTON — No coach ever wants to see his starting quarterback go down with an injury, but if happens, he definitely wants a solid backup.
Such is the case with the third-ranked Lovejoy Wildcats as it competes for its fourth straight region championship. The Wildcats have been relying on back-up quarterback Khaleel Rogers after starter Quintarius Neely sustained a thumb injury a few weeks ago.
Rogers, a junior, hasn’t disappointed as he is 3-0 as the Wildcats travel to Newton tonight for a key Region 2-AAAAAA game. The Wildcats can clinch a first-round playoff home game with a win.
“He (Khaleel) has gotten better with each game,” Lovejoy coach Al Hughes said. “He has taken the role as starter and ran with it. That is a signature of a good team when you can replace a starter and not miss a beat.”
Coming into the season, Rogers was expected to be the starter after a solid performance during the summer passing league. That was different from spring practice when Neely, a transfer from Atlanta’s Mays High, had solidified himself as the starter.
But once preseason drills started in August, Neely, Rogers and senior Cam Hill engaged in an intense battle for the position. Hill entered spring drills as last season’s backup.
While Neely won the job, Lovejoy used Rogers and Hill as wide receivers in some of its offensive sets. Offensive coordinator Craig Chatman said all were too talented not to get any playing time.
In turn, it helped the Wildcats continued to be an offensive juggernaut.
“Khaleel is doing things we need him to do,” Chatman said after last week’s 51-7 win over Luella. “He has performed very well for us.”
It helps being surrounded by several talented players like junior wide receivers Preston Williams and Tremaine Dillard, a pair of juniors who have combined for 49 receptions and 917 yards. Williams, who is considered one of the top junior prospects in the state, has already committed to Tennessee.
Neely is expected back in a couple weeks, but Chatman refused to say what the team’s plans are in using the top signal-callers.
For now, Hughes is pleased that Rogers has stepped up to the challenge.
“You always have to have a quality backup,” he said. “Coming into the campaign this season, we had expected him to be the starter.”
Hughes says the competition from the spring and summer workouts proved to be invaluable for both Rogers and Neely.
“Competition always breeds success,” Hughes said. “We have always had good competition at all positions here at Lovejoy. When kids get their opportunity, they are always trying to make the best of it. Khaleel is making the best of his opportunity to be on the field.”
The numbers speak volumes for Lovejoy’s success as the quarterbacks have combined for 1,438 yards and 16 touchdowns with only two interceptions in 157 pass attempts.
“Those are some pretty good numbers,” Chatman said. “I will take that.”
Last season, Rogers was the starter on the JV, which finished with a 5-1 record. He played in varsity games against Luella and Rockdale last season. Neely was the starting JV quarterback at Mays last season.
“I’m getting real comfortable with being in there,” Rogers said. “Since I’ve been here, I’m pretty familiar with the offense. I’m just doing what I have to do to help this team win.”
And so far it is working.