By Tyree Brown
LOVEJOY, Ga. — The Lovejoy Wildcats have tried to prove they still have some of that state championship fight left in them, despite declining win-loss records over the last few seasons.
Since reaching its second consecutive Class AAAAAA championship game in 2012, Lovejoy football has gone further and further from reaching such an accomplishment. After an impressive 10-2 record in 2013, a 7-4 record in 2014, and a mildly surprising 5-7 mark in 2015, some may say it’s hard to pinpoint the reason for the Wildcats’ decline.
One reason could be the retiring of 13-year head coach Al Hughes. Hughes last four season with the wild cats included a 47-6 record and 2 trips to the State Championship.
Taking his place during the 2014 season was defensive coordinator Edgar Carson. Although the team’s records have decline, Carson remains hopeful that the program will thrive again.
“We have the stay the course and keep working.” Carson said.
“Tough” is a fitting description for Lovejoy’s new regional competition. Teams such as Stephenson and Jonesboro are coming off of deep playoff runs, while schools such as Tucker and M.L. King always have rosters teeming with talent. But with many in the region rebuilding, this could be a good time for Lovejoy to recover.
The Wildcats reached the final four of Adidas’s Georgia 7v7 State Championship tournament last week before taking a close loss to Langston Hughes High School. Langston Hughes would go on to win the championship in undefeated fashion.
“The (7v7) gave our quarterback and receivers a time to work on timing and a chance to learn to be successful in different situations,” said Carson.
Some of Lovejoy’s success in the competition — and optimism for the 2016 season — can be attributed to linebacker Michael Harris. Harris’s strong presence on defense was noticeable throughout the two days in Locust Grove last week, and Carson describes him as “a team leader on defense that is a joy to coach.”
“It helps to know my job like I know my mama’s last name.” Harris said.
Harris appears to be a rising leader on the defensive side of the ball in the same form of former three-star cornerback Montrell Custis who recently finished Ole Miss’s spring practice No. 1 on the depth chart at the nickel position and fellow Lovejoy graduate Demarcus Gates.
On the Offensive side of the ball, Carson believes receiver Marquese Taylor will be a major 2016 difference maker. The rising senior currently has offers from Georgia State, California, and Appalachian State, among others.
“We just haven’t had that winning mentality,” Taylor said. “We have to stop having people give up so we can show up and play our hardest.”
Coach Carson is sure his players — both past and present — will live up to expectations.
“I don’t have a prediction for next season,” said Carson “But hopefully we get in that top four position.”