The Lovejoy Wildcats are mostly responsible for the accolade since they made their second straight title-game appearance last year.
“The past two years have been a special couple of years,” said Lovejoy head coach Al Hughes during Media Day last Wednesday. “We have lost a lot of good players and it’s got us concerned but we’ve got a great group of young men who are coming back.”
“Coach Hughes has really raised the bar higher,” Jonesboro head coach Tim Floyd said. “He’s done a great job and gives us all something to shoot for.”
The Wildcats will have seven starters returning on offense but just one on defense.
Even though Travis Custis, Alejandro Bennifield, AJ Jackson and Ju’Michael Ramos are no longer a part of the offense, Lovejoy still has some talent returning in wide receiver Preston Williams, and joining the mix in Jeremiah Kirkland, who rushed for 2,052 yards and 27 touchdowns last season at Landmark Christian.
“We will have three really special running backs,” Lovejoy offensive coordinator Craig Chatman said. “It’s not going to be too much of a drop off but you don’t replace a Travis Custis. You just try to fill in the gap that he left.”
On defense, highly recruited prospects and linebackers DeMarquis Gates and Randy Anyanwu are expected to lead a unit which lost Nathaniel Norwood, Zane Fields, Veion Robinson and Brandon Davis to name a few.
The Jonesboro Cardinals have also been key in the county’s success lately, but will meet challenges with six starters returning on offense and just two on defense.
“We are kind of in a transition period,” Floyd said. “We have eight sophomores starting on defense but I think they are a pretty talented group.”
Over at Drew, Jarrett Laws has the same issue as far as youth.
“This year will be the most challenging but I think it will be the most rewarding because we truly have to work now,” Laws said.
After advancing to the playoffs last year, the Riverdale Raiders hope to go further but under new coach Terry Herrod.
With 10 starters back on offense and six on defense, and Rodney Smith, who rushed for more than 1,500 yards in 2012 before tearing his ACL, scheduled to return early in the season, Mundy’s Mill’s Greg Manior looks to lead the Tigers to more region success along with overall success.