What does it take to win?
Three players personify the qualities needed to succeed in the competitive crucible of Prince George's County
Experience: Richard Barber, quarterback, Frederick Douglass
With a 17-6 record as a starter since taking over as a sophomore, Richard Barber is the most seasoned quarterback playing county football in 2009.
The 5-foot-9 kid teammates used to call "Little Richie" is all grown up. Last year, Barber rushed for 384 yards and six touchdowns and passed for 634 and 10 touchdowns with three interceptions. With just three starters returning on offense, Barber has taken on some coaching duties too, being more vocal in practice and helping correct other players' mistakes.
"He's the coach on the field. He's got free reign out there," said Douglass coach J.C. Pinkney. "For this team, he's just what the doctor ordered."
A young senior, the 16-year old makes up for average speed, subpar size and pedestrian arm strength with elite field vision and a mastery of Pinkney's triple-option scheme. With the graduation of two of last year's three top rushers, Barber will have to raise his level of play yet again to lead Douglass further than another 2A South Region title game appearance. Will they still call him "Little Richie?"
"Naw, not anymore," Barber says. "I'm probably the old-head on the team now."
Talent: Jordan Haden, safety, Friendly
His last name has become Prince George's County football's closest thing to royalty.
The Haden Empire stretches as far back as 2006, when Jordan Haden's older brothers Joe and Josh led Friendly to a Class 3A state championship. Joe set a Maryland public school record with 7,371 career passing yards, then became the only true freshman to start at cornerback on opening day in Florida Gator history. In 2007, Josh earned Maryland All-State honors while rushing for 1,350 yards and 18 touchdowns, then headed to Boston College.
Where does Jordan fit in? Shockingly ahead of the curve. At 6-feet and 200 pounds, with 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash, Jordan is bigger, faster and stronger than his brothers were when they ruled the county. A vicious hitter with elite tackling ability, Jordan has accepted a scholarship to play at Florida next year, where he'll join his older brother if Joe doesn't declare for the NFL draft. During grueling workouts this summer, Josh and Joe reminded their kid brother to keep his eye on the prize:
"They always tell me I need to step up," Jordan said. "That I'm a senior now and it's my time to shine."
Leadership: Jeremiah Johnson, safety, Suitland
When Suitland coach Nick Lynch died tragically in a car accident last December, Jeremiah Johnson became the emotional leader of a grieving football team.
With the help of new coach Ed Shields, Johnson turned pain into promise for Suitland, upping the intensity in offseason workouts and challenging his team to come back stronger in 2009.
"He was a leader last year, this year is just a continuation of that," Shields said. "He's just one of those kids that does everything he's supposed to do on the field, and off the field."
Johnson plans to use Lynch's memory as a springboard for a young team that returns just nine starters.
"This year, I knew I couldn't be anything less than a leader," Johnson said. "I want to be one of those guys to help hold this team together."
Verbally committed to the University of Maryland, Johnson is after what has eluded the Rams since winning the 4A title with Lynch in 2006.
"This season is dedicated to coach Lynch," Johnson said. "I want a state championship. Undefeated. 14-0. That would be the perfect exclamation point."