The Lions enter the 2013 season after advancing to the Class AA quarterfinals — their sixth trip to that round in the last seven years — last fall.
“Last year was a great year,” Lovett coach Mike Muschamp said. “We had a close-knit group of kids who worked awfully hard and to get as far as we did is a tribute to their efforts and their willingness to make some personal sacrifices to help our team get better.”
It certainly didn’t come easy for Lovett, which got off to a 2-4 start in a grueling early season schedule against the likes of eventual AAA runner-up St. Pius X, AAAA semifinalist Marist and Alabama powerhouse Fort Payne as well as AAA powerhouses Woodward and Blessed Trinity before rallying to win six of its last seven games.
The early going will be as challenging for the Lions as they repeat their non-region gauntlet with games against the same teams with a squad that lost 26 players from last year’s AA state quarterfinalists.
“If you look at our schedule, it’s the same schedule as last year and it’s going to be just as difficult as last year,” Muschamp said. “We graduated 26 kids, so we have a lot of holes to fill. We’ve got to have some kids to step up who haven’t played a whole lot in critical situations.”
Lovett gets a big boost in its quest for another deep state playoff run by the return of senior standout Grant Haley, a Vanderbilt commitment who is considered to be one of the cornerbacks in the state and is also a key performer on offense at running back.
The Lions will also be strong again at quarterback as junior Willie Candler comes back to take snaps.
“It’s always nice to have your quarterback back,” Muschamp said. “It’s really super-nice top have a player like Grant Haley coming back. So you kind of center everything you do around them in offense, and you know Grant is going to do a great job defensively for us and you hope the other guys pick it up and come along.”
Junior tight end Will Geharty is another key player on offense, while junior left guard Eric Thomas and junior tackle Nathan Offutt anchor the offensive line.
While Lovett lost some key defensive stalwarts like linebackers John Coletti, Corey Erdoes and Brant Wells and defensive back Winn Martin, the Lions do return a solid veteran core on defense.
Haley leads the way at cornerback, while senior safety Tyler Shiflett, senior left tackle Tej Suber and senior linebacker Charlie Ingram also play key roles.
“We’re excited about these guys — the way they’ve developed, the way they’re working together right now,” Muschamp said.
For the coach, how his team gets through during its tough early schedule will determine how far it will go.
“I think a lot of that will depend on how well our offensive line develops and how our defense develops,” he said. “When you play those first six games against those quality opponents, you’ll see how that all pulls out. If we can get through all that and be healthy, then I feel like we have a chance to have an outstanding season.”
Aug. 23 Woodward
Aug. 30 at Blessed Trinity
Sept. 13 at Marist
Sept. 20 St. Pius X
Sept. 27 at Fort Payne (Ala.)
Oct. 4 Washington Co.
Oct. 18 at Hapeville*
Oct. 25 Wesleyan*
Nov. 1 Westminster*
Nov. 8 at Greater Atlanta Christian*
*denotes region game