There’s a certain look to Lovejoy and Norcross. They have star running backs, but they also pass well. Their defenses are fast and force mistakes.
“As we’re looking at film of Norcross, it looks like a lot of what we do before our eyes,’’ Lovejoy head coach Al Hughes said. “They’ve got good running back, the quarterback is athletic, and defensively they fly around the ball and make plays.’’
Hughes’ observations are easily supported.
- Travis Custis of Lovejoy has rushed for 2,058 yards with 35 touchdowns. Alvin Kamara of Norcross has rushed for 2,210 yards with 25 touchdowns.
- Alejandro Bennifield of Lovejoy has passed for 2,395 yards with 28 touchdowns and five interceptions. Joseph Wilbur of Norcross has passed for 2,347 with 27 touchdowns and five interceptions.
- Lovejoy’s defense is led by nose tackle Nathaniel Norwood, who has 16.5 sacks. Norcross’ defense is led by Lorenzo Carter, who has 18 sacks.
- Both teams have several major Division I prospects from Kamara (uncommitted) and Custis (Georgia Tech) to Lovejoy tight end Arshad Jackson (Auburn) and Norcross cornerback Shon Akins (California).
- Lovejoy’s Al Hughes and Norcross’ Keith Maloof are in their 17th seasons as head coaches. Neither they, nor their schools, have won state titles.
‘’It’s an evenly matched game athlete to athlete,’’ Maloof said. ‘’We’ve got great running backs. He’s got a big ol’ offensive line; we’ve got a big ol’ offensive line. We’ve got aggressive defenses. If you make a mistake, each team can take advantage.’’
But of the similarities, none will be more studied and discussed Saturday than Custis and Kamara.
Perhaps the more physical back at 6 feet, 205 pounds, Custis rushed for 292 yards and scored five touchdowns in the 63-42 victory over North Cobb in the semifinals. Hughes said that was ‘’about par. It just depends on how many times you feed him the pill.’’
Hughes was the coach of high school running backs Tashard Choice and Emmanuel McDaniel, who would play in the NFL. Custis is the best he’s coached, Hughes said.
‘’We’ve had a lot of good ones here, and we’ve had some that made it even to the league,’’ Hughes said. “Travis as a junior broke all of Tashard’s rushing records. He’s working on all of his own now. He is by far probably the best we’ve had at Lovejoy High School.’’
Kamara, perhaps more elusive at 5-10, 190, is rated higher by those that assign stars and recruiting ratings. Rivals.com considers him the No. 1 running back prospect in South, No. 4 in the nation. Kamara has averaged 24.5 carries and 156 yards rushing in the playoffs.
‘’He’s as good you think he is and better,’’ Maloof said. “He can do so much athletically, and leadership wise, he raises the level of people around him.’’