Prep Football: Lovejoy another tough task for East CowetaBy CHRIS GOLTERMANN
Most high school football teams that have just played a No. 1 state-ranked opponent tend to get a bit of a break the following week on the schedule. At least in their own minds.
For East Coweta, however, it might be ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire.’
Either way, a Wildcat team that returns 16 starters from last year’s Class AAAA quarterfinalists that lost to eventual state champion Tucker, and lost its only game so far in a 14-7 defensive struggle at state-ranked Colquitt County (AP, No. 5 Class AAAAA) is not quite the rebound opponent most lineups would welcome this week.
Respective head coaches Clint Wade of East Coweta and Al Hughes of Lovejoy, both of whom have been a part of the last seven meetings between the schools since 2001, have already taking gracious turns complimenting one another’s programs with equal amounts of football knowledge and wit.
When talking to a Clayton publication about the Indians, Hughes referred to the trip to Sharpsburg as “a hornet’s nest.” “They will have everything in the world for you to deal with down there,” he told Maurice Dixon of the Clayton Neighbor.
Hughes has a point, considering East Coweta has beaten Lovejoy the last four times they’ve played, twice at Garland Shoemake Stadium, and twice at Twelve Oaks in Clayton, the latest of which a 38-6 loss in 2009.
Wade knew just how to retort.
“Hornet’s nest?” he responded. “That’s about what we are, little hornets. They’re elephants and rhinos. They have grown up a bunch since 2009. It’s probably one of the better (teams) they’ve had. Now Al won’t tell you that, though.”
The East Coweta head coach was quite serious, however, when talking about Lovejoy’s talent, which some feel might be more athletic than the Wildcats’ 2003 lineup that included future NFL players in running back Tashard Choice and offensive lineman Chris Scott.
Current All-State back Travis Custis, a 6-0, 207-pound senior who verbally committed to Georgia Tech last spring, eclipsed Choice’s single-season rushing records in 2011 with 1,839 yards and 31 touchdowns. Between Custis, quarterback Alejandro Bennifield and receiver JuMichael Ramos, Lovejoy’s offense boasts much the same talent as Sandy Creek a week ago with the ability to spread the field or run it between the tackles with their No. 1 running back.
Last year’s offensive line at Lovejoy was dominated by underclassmen including freshman center Randy Robinson. Hughes’ Lovejoy lineup this fall includes 33 seniors, nearly the same amount that a young East Coweta team lost in 2011.
“They run whatever they want to run. They’re not real complicated. They’ll just get in the spread when they’re not trying to run over you,” Wade said, adding of Custis, “They’ve got a heck of a running back. He’s rangy, tall, got a lot of speed and he’s tough. [He’s] just a hard-nosed runner.”
Defensively, the Wildcats try to use that speed by crowding the line of scrimmage. East Coweta’s scout teamers were right on top of their Indian receivers during offensive skeleton drills. Despite losing standout Rico McWilliams, who signed with South Carolina, eight of last year’s 11 Lovejoy starters are back. They include 6-2, 205-pound senior outside linebacker Veion Robinson and safety El-Malik Roberson.
Looking back at last week’s loss to Sandy Creek, which seemed to swing on a goal-line series where East Coweta seemed to have broken the plain on consecutive runs from the Patriot 1-yard-line, Indians coaches saw positives. Defensively, where the Indians are starting several sophomores, senior Nigel Gay and junior Markell Boston have solidified a secondary that only returned senior cornerback Dee Godfrey.
“Dee’s of course always going. Nigel and Markell, I’d pay a ticket to watch them two play,” Wade said. “They play the game like it ought to be played.”
East Coweta’s offense has managed just one touchdown the past two weeks in losses to Archer and Sandy Creek on a reception by Wyatt Potter, who “really needed that. I hope that will give him some added confidence,” Wade said.
Yet the Indians’ coach feels that both sides of the ball made good amounts of progress last week, with most of his players making just their third varsity start.
“We played better last week. We kept feeling our way and we had opportunities,” he said. “The kids are really taking to the coaching and have had a great attitude. They’re getting there,” Wade. “Adversity is pretty much at its peak right now. That’s just the way it is. You’ve got one of two choices. You can either pick it up and get after it or ... I don’t even know how to describe the other one. That’s not going to happen. We’re going to face it and we’re going to endure it. Hopefully it’ll help us down the road.”