HAMPTON — There was some doubt coming into the season about how good Lovejoy would be.
When you graduate your all-time leading rusher, a talented receiving corps and a quarterback that has led you to back-to-back state title games, it’s easy to doubt.
And then on defense, when your entire secondary has graduated, and some of the other top playmakers in college level, being optimistic about the second is hard.
But two weeks into the season, its easy now to see that Lovejoy will be a contender again.
For the second year in a row, the Wildcats made the trek to Moultrie and gave Region 1-AAAAAA powerhouse Colquitt County all it could handle.
In the closing seconds, the Wildcats were in a position to win. A pass from sophomore quarterback Quintarius Neely was batted down on a fourth-and-goal play that sealed the win for Colquitt.
And with that close defeat, Lovejoy will eventually make believers out of their doubters.
Neely looks mature beyond his age. Consider this time last season he was the starting JV quarterback at Mays. That is a far cry from leading a contending Class AAAAAA program on the varsity level.
Just a few weeks ago, Lovejoy was unsettled on the quarterback situation. Neely was in a hot battle with two other teammates to lead the offense.
Eventually, he emerged as the starter.
Anytime you start a new quarterback, especially one that hasn’t played on the varsity level, there is some doubt.
But if you need proof that Neely is capable, just look at the final drive of the Wildcats’ game at Colquitt County.
He showed poise.
In a hostile enviroment on the road, against another top-10 program, Neely marched the Wildcats down the field, and put them in a position for a big win.
And notice the word program, not team, was used to describe Lovejoy.
Yes, Lovejoy has elevated itself from being just a good team, to a title-contending program. After consecutive trips to its classification finals, the Wildcats deserve that label.
And as you look around the landscape of Class AAAAAA this season, the Wildcats have just as good a shot as any team to win the title.
Last year, you might have had some doubts because of teams like Grayson, Lowndes, Colquitt County and Norcross.
But Lovejoy seems to be just a strong and deserving.
Grayson doesn’t appear to be that juggernaut this season. Lowndes was tripped up at home against Newton. Lovejoy proved that Colquitt is beatable if they should meet again.
After Norcross’ season-opening loss to Miami’s B.T. Washington High, and the graduation of Alvin Kamara, the Blue Devils have to prove themselves to be the favorites.
Class AAAAAA seems to be wide-open and Lovejoy should be a challenger.
This is not to say that Lovejoy is perfect, because they have some areas to improve upon as the season goes on. They likely won’t get much challenge in their region, but Newton could be an interesting game.
Neely has an experienced offensive line, and wide receiver Preston Williams is on pace for a Player of the Year type season. Running back Jeremiah Kirkland is keeping defenses honesty, and will likely have another 1,000-yard rushing season.
Linebacker DeMarquis Gates is expected back before the playoffs, and some other injured players are already back in the lineup.
If Clayton County’s championship drought is going to end, look for Lovejoy to be hoisting that championship trophy in the Georgia Dome in late December.
There’s no doubt that the Wildcats have that championship look.
Derrick Mahone is the sports editor of the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter? Follow @DerrickMahone_