Lovejoy Head Coach Al Hughes has seen his share of talent at the Clayton County school of which he's been in charge the last few seasons. This year he has a senior who he thinks is one of the best he's ever coached.
Entering his eighth season as the head man in charge of the Wildcats, Hughes is excited about the returning talent headlined by one of the state's top offensive linemen in Andre Harris. The Wildcats did lose a lot of talent to graduation last year including 13 players now on college rosters. Coach Hughes, however, is not one to fret over what's been lost.
The Wildcats make the move from Class AAAA up to Class AAAAA this year after a 5-6 '07 campaign and will have the task of doing so with a host of unproven players. GAVarsity.com made the trek out to Lovejoy to chat with Lovejoy's head man about his thoughts on the upcoming season.
Time to Reload
Coach Hughes has been in this situation many times before, so he knows what it will take, but any way you look at it, he has a considerable challenge ahead.
"We're real excited about the season," Hughes stated. "Fortunately here at Lovejoy, we have a lot of numbers to choose from every year and most years we graduate 38 to 40 kids. Last year we graduated 45 kids, which sounds like every year we're trying to rebuild, and I guess we are in a way, but we got the ninth grade program and our JV program and some of the select few kids like Andre Harris, "Punch" Yancey, and Lamarcus Hough--guys like that-end up playing a lot because they're pretty good football players. They played when they were sophomores on the varsity, they played again when they were juniors on the varsity, and now will be their senior year, so we do have some experienced kids coming back and we're real excited about the possibilities."
Rock Solid Line
It's easy to get excited about the beef Coach Hughes will have up front, and he has one of Georgia's best leading the way.
"Probably the strength of our program will rely on our offensive line," he said. "Our offensive line looks to be a group of big kids led by four-year starter in senior Andre Harris, who's 6'5, 315 pounds now."
"He's lost a little weight and [he's] looking good. He's bench pressing 405 pounds now, he's squatting parallel 385 to 400 pounds so we're excited about what he's going to bring to the table and we've got three other kids that's going to top the scales around 300 ponds, so our offensive line should be a strong suit for us. We're hoping so because if you can block people then you have a chance."
Looking to step up
Lovejoy had 13 players sign scholarships last February, so obviously there is a lot of talent to replace across the board, but Coach Hughes has a couple of guys he is really high on in the spring.
"We graduated a lot of great kids last year. We graduated a quarterback-Kyle Lacy, who was one of the leading passers in the region. He's going to be playing at Alabama A&M. We're replacing him with a sophomore, but this is a special sophomore. We're really, really excited about him."
He draws comparison to a former Lovejoy standout signal caller.
"He reminds us so much of one of our former players, Kisan Flakes. We're real excited about what he's going to bring to the table for us."
He is comfortable with whose hands the running game is in as well.
"I feel like we've got a good running back coming back. We graduated three of those guys last year and they all signed to play [with colleges], but this kid coming back this year was a junior last year. In one game last year he got to play and he rushed for 200 yards and scored a couple of touchdowns, so obviously he can play too and we're real happy with his potential."
More praise for Harris
Lovejoy senior offensive lineman Andre Harris is on the short list when talking the top players at his position for the Class of '09. Coach Hughes has seen plenty of top lineman so he would know whether or not the praise is warranted.
"Going all the way back when I first took over we had a left tackle named Darian Mitchell who played at Notre Dame. We had guys like [Byron] Isom who's the starting guard at Auburn. Then we had Chris Scott and Anthony Parker who play side by side up there at Tennessee and we got a kid-Johnathan Battle-that played at East Carolina so yeah, we've been fortunate to have some good offensive linemen through the years, but Andre [Harris] might be one of the best ones we've had."
He continued, "He's a big kid. He's really, really strong physically. He's stronger than all of those guys physically-at this point in his career anyway. He's talented, he's athletic. He's not just a big guy. He's an athletic guy. He can move. He runs real well for a big man. He ran a 5.02 forty back at a combine last summer. He's an outstanding young man. He works hard in the classroom; he works hard in weight room; he works hard in the community being a role model for people and he's just a special young man."
Anytime you lose 45 seniors to graduation, including 13 college signees, you are expected to be granted a pardon for the following year. Coach Hughes will have none of that as he's excited about the possibilities of what his offense can do behind his massive offensive line that will be opening up holes for senior running back Marshaun Roberson.
If sophomore quarterback Vic Hardison is as good as advertised, Lovejoy may be able to survive the move to Georgia's highest classification in the not-so-tough Region 4-AAAAA. Hardison looks real comfortable in the pocket and has a very solid arm. If his offensive line keeps him out of harm's way (which we think they will) the Wildcats should be able to move the ball effectively.
The defensive line will have plenty of studs to replace in DE Tory Allen (Virginia), DBs Blake Clemons (Princeton), Roshon Dixon (Grambling), and Michael Green (Florida A&M), and LB Braelin Watson (Tusculum). In all, only two starters return on defense, so there may be some growing pains at the beginning of the season.
Considering what they lost, the Wildcats should not expected to do much, but we think a seven-win season is not out of the question for Coach Hughes's team.