A team with only four seniors on the roster will rarely be expected to start the football season with three straight wins. Lithonia is the exception.
The Bulldogs are off to a perfect 3-0 start under coach Marcus Jelks, who returned to the sidelines after being away for two years. Jelks was the Bulldogs’ head coach for seven seasons, went to Stephenson for one year and returned to Lithonia in 2018 as athletic director.
With only four seniors returning from last year’s 6-5 team, Jelks knew the task wouldn’t be easy. But he and his staff have worked hard since the spring on getting the young team to believe they will be able to compete in Region 5-AAAAA.
“We’ve got a great group of young leaders,” Jelks said. “They’ve bought into what we’re trying to and they’re willing to do the things they need to do to get better.”
Jelks admitted he was surprised at the level of commitment by the young team. But when an opportunity presented itself for the team this summer – camps, workouts, weight sessions – there was heavy participation across the program.
“When you lose a big group of seniors like we did, you have to get kids to commit to wanting to do better and this group has been extremely committed,” Jelks said. “There were very few guys who missed days. The commitment level has been great.”
It has helped the team’s progression that three of the seniors are offensive lineman: Broderick Jones, Kelvin Usher and Farris Grant. The other senior is wide receiver Deshonn Wilhite.
Jones is a monster. He’s 6-foot-5, 275 pounds and has already made a commitment to play at the University of Georgia.
The veteran offensive line has helped speed the development of the offense, which has produced 126 points in three games.
Quarterback Savion Lawson is one of those players who didn’t miss an opportunity over the summer. The junior has limited experience, but spends time watching film and working with the coaches to speed his progress. He had seven touchdown passes in the first two games.
Running back D’Vonte Slaton has shined early. He averaged 150 yards in the first two games and has successfully made the move from defensive back. Slaton, who runs track in the spring and summer, is a burner.
“He’s special,” Jelks said. “He’s extremely talented.”
The Lithonia defense began the season with two shutouts. That group is led by junior linebacker Asmar Hasan, who led the team in tackles last year and is doing it again through three games. The other linebacker is Jamario Washington, a 6-2, 215-pound sophomore who is already starting to get looks from schools. Washington had four sacks last week against Stone Mountain, giving him six for the season.
After two lopsided wins, Jelks was pleased how his team responded when challenged by Stone Mountain, a game Lithonia won 33-30.
“We gave up some points, but they were able to finish the game,” he said. “I’m excited with how they responded.”
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