2012 record: 13-2, lost in Class AAAAAA championship game to Norcross 21-14.
Starters returning: 4 offense, 4 defense.
Key players lost: RB Travis Custis (Georgia Tech), QB Alejandro Bennefield (Chattanooga), LB Nathaniel Norwood (Appalachian State), WR Arshad Jackson (Mississippi), LB Veion Robinson (Middle Tenneessee), LB Zane Fields (S.C. State), WR Jumichael Ramos (N.C. State), DB Tyrell Brown (Appalachian State)
Key players returning: OL Randy Robinson, OL Mike Jones, OL Justin Brown, LB Demarquis Gates, RB/DB Montrell Custis, NT/DL Kris Ellis, LB Chauncey Jackson.
Spring practice dates: May 6-17
Outlook: Lovejoy will be heavily favored to win Region 2-AAAAAA, but repeating as state runner-up will be a challenge without about two-thirds of its starting lineup and 21 seniors who signed college scholarships. Lovejoy appears to have the talent and confidence to remain a Top 10 team.
Aug. 30 – Mundy’s Mill
Sept. 6 – Colquitt County
Sept. 13 – at Alpharetta
Sept. 20 – East Coweta
Sept. 27 – Druid Hills
Oct. 5 – at Rockdale County
Oct. 11 – Morrow
Oct. 18 – Luella
Oct. 25 – at Newton
Nov. 8 – at Alcovy
Lovejoy has won 37 of 41 games and played in two state finals in the past three seasons. To be determined is whether that was just one heck of a run or the dawn of a perennial state power.
Heading into his 36th season as a coach in Clayton County, Lovejoy’s Al Hughes sounds optimistic in the face of losing two-thirds of his 2012 starters, the Class AAAAAA offensive and defensive players of the year (RB Travis Custis, LB/DL Nathaniel Norwood) and a school-record 21 players who signed college scholarships, eight with FBS schools.
“When you lose a class like we lost, it would appear on the outside that we’re starting over,’’ Hughes said, “but I hope with some good work this spring, we will reload.’’
Spring practice isn’t until next month, but Hughes has seen enough of some of the replacements to feel confident. He notes that Lovejoy’s junior varsity and freshman teams had better records than the varsity last season. Both were undefeated.
The most interesting competition this spring figures to be at quarterback. Gone is Alejandro Bennefield, who signed with Chattanooga.
The replacement could be rising senior Cameron Hill (Bennefield’s 2012 backup) or rising junior Khaleel Rogers (the JV starter). Hughes said two other contenders are move-ins, but he declined to name or discuss players who had had not yet practiced with the team.
Also at a loss will be the backfield without Custis, the 2,118-yard rusher. He’s off to Georgia Tech.
Montrell Custis, a cousin of Travis, started at safety last season and could be a feature back and two-way starter in 2013. Another option is Travis’ brother, Treveyion. Montrell and Treveyion are rising juniors who are about 6-1, 185 and Division I prospects.
‘’We’re not trying to replace a Travis with a Travis, but we want to put a quality guy out there, and we’ve got plenty of them,’’ Hughes said.
Whoever runs the ball should be playing behind one of the state’s better offensive lines. Mike Jones, who will be a third-year starter, will be the smallest of the five at 270 pounds.
Rising junior center Randy Robinson (6-2, 305) started 15 games as a freshman. He has a 400-pound bench press and is a straight-A student. Junior Justin Brown (6-3, 305) was the team’s most athletic offensive lineman last season. He is being recruited by Auburn, Tennessee and UCLA.
The defense will be under the new direction of Edgar Carson, formerly the defensive backs coach. He replaces defensive coordinator Kevin Jones, now head coach at Dutchtown.
Carson will have plenty of defensive talent to direct starting with linebacker/defensive end Demarquis Gates (6-2, 230), who committed to Ole Miss last week. Gates had four sacks and 13 tackles for losses last season despite missing four early games with a knee injury.
Kris Ellis (5-10, 215) had five sacks and 15 tackles for losses playing on the line. He’ll move to linebacker this spring to accommodate pure nosetackle Dalien “Mount” Walker (6-2, 330), who ‘’runs like a little guy, not a big slow kid,’’ says Hughes.
Chauncey Jackson (5-9, 230), a rising junior, finished second on the team in tackles as a sophomore. Defensive end Randy Anyanwu (6-2, 235) has been limited the past two seasons because of a broken ankle suffered in the 2011 season. He has an offer from Old Dominion, according to Rivals. The Custis cousins are likely to start in the secondary.
‘’We feel real good about what we’ve got coming back,’’ Hughes said. “We’ve got some really good key players to replace, but the best part was we had a lot of kids that got to play a lot of snaps because of our success. When you’re scoring 49.6 points per game [in the regular season], you get lot of people on the field. We feel real good with what we’ve got coming back athletically.’’