3A/2A/1A football preview
Three-way battle for conference crown
Last Year: 5-5.
Returning Starters: 5 offense, 5 defense.
Central in a word: Shorthanded. The Falcons are making strides and could be headed to the program's first state playoff appearance.
But the numbers game may work against the Falcons. Coach Stan Hall said he has 35 players out for the program's junior varsity and varsity teams. Hall said only 18 are ready for varsity level, and depth will be an issue that plagues the team the entire season.
The Falcons have experience on the offensive and defensive lines with two-way seniors Joe Williams, Barry Nix and Thron Mickens returning. Central will rely heavily on sophomore tailback/linebacker Damacus Thomas along with senior returning starters James Hall (outside linebacker/tight end) and Angelou Westfield (center).
Hall said attendance at practice has been excellent, but questions whether the team will have the depth to be competitive.
"We didn't have many kids come out," Hall said. "I'm out all day trying to find kids that want to play hoping that they're eligible. When you've got to go looking for a kid, most of the time it means he doesn't want to play anyway."
Last year: 2-8
Returning starters: 3 offense, 5 defense.
Crossland in a word: Progressing. Longtime county coach Eric Knight endured a rare losing season in 2008, his first year with the Cavaliers. After his last two losing seasons — 1984 at Forestville and 1998 at Potomac — Knight guided his team into the playoffs the following year.
"We were not a good football team last year," said Knight. "We inherited a team that lacked technique and didn't know what it took to win. No question, Crossland will be a better football team this year."
Knight said his 2009 team is "loaded, skill-wise." Senior Delante White (5-foot-11, 172 pounds) returns as the key playmaker at receiver and cornerback. Senior Kareem Ellis (6-1, 165) is another receiving option, along with speedy seniors Marcale Stevenson (6-0, 160) and Derico Waters (5-6, 165).
Senior Eric Watson (5-9, 165) is the leading option at quarterback, while sophomore Cornell Duncan (6-2, 195) will challenge for the position.
Returning running backs Tayvon Howard (5-10, 170) and Clarence Boyd (5-10, 180) will compete for the No. 1 spot. Senior Lamonte Mills (5-11, 180), and junior Darnell Brown (5-11, 200), who transferred from Georgia, will provide depth.
Brown also will play linebacker along with seniors Richard Mingo (6-0, 205) and Trevon Barnes (6-2, 207).
Last year: 8-3, lost in 3A South Region semifinals to Westlake.
Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense.
Friendly in a word: Young. Youth will need to lead the Patriots as they return just nine seniors, including two on offense.
Coach John Morgan expects to lean heavily on junior Sherrod Baltimore, who will play tailback, receiver and quarterback. As a starter last year, Baltimore passed for 779 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions, but Morgan hopes to hand the reigns over to sophomore junior varsity standout Devon Dorsey so Baltimore can be used to stretch the field.
Morgan expects big things from a monster offensive line that includes senior right tackle Kyron Johnson (6-0, 250), guard/defensive tackle Raymond Edelin (6-3, 280), and junior center/defensive tackle Excellent Bratton (5-10, 240). Senior safety Jordan Haden, who has verbally committed to the University of Florida, will captain the 4-2-5 defense that will once again rely heavily on speed.
"I think we have a good enough team to make a title run but the [3A/2A/1A League] road goes through Gwynn Park and Douglass," Morgan said. "I would put them ahead of us. They're the top dogs and we're chasing them."
Fairmont Heights Hornets
Last Year: 0-10.
Returning Starters: 5 offense, 4 defense.
Fairmont Heights in a word: Dedicated. The Hornets have no choice but to be dedicated if they hope to rebound from a horrific 2008 season. Hornets' coach Derek Deane said much of the team's struggles dealt little with X's and O's.
"It was unlike anything I've ever experienced," Deane said about the 2008 season, his first with the program. "Really none of it was football-related. Our kids had a lot of obstacles in [school]. A lot of it was just plain inexperience. I saw the things that caused problems and distractions and this year I've just eliminated them. One thing I can say is our focus is to be a lot more competitive this year."
The Hornets' offense is led by senior returnees Niko Boswell-Johnson (quarterback), Christian Bryant (tight end/tailback), Michael Gibson (tight end), Brandon Williams (guard) and Matthew Kelliebrew (tackle).
Senior Michael Warrick (defensive back) will lead the defense along with Bryant (defensive end), Gibson (linebacker) and Williams (tackle).
Last Year: 5-6, lost in 1A South semifinals to Dunbar.
Returning Starters: 4 offense, 5 defense.
Forestville in a word: Interesting. Knights' coach Charles Harley said he has faced a numbers problem since he arrived as the school's coach in 2000. This year won't be different, as just 22 players came out for the team.
That said, the Knights will still have their fair share of talent, led by senior standout receiver Antonio Belt, who Harley said has narrowed his college choices down to the University of Maryland and Temple University.
Wide receiver Antonio Wood and tackle Chris Pressley, both seniors, also return to the offense. Junior Ricardo Smith will play quarterback. Defensively, the Knights will have senior linebacker Rowan Pinkett returning, senior Carnell McClary at defensive end, and senior linebacker Brandon Miller.
Senior Chavon Hart and juniors Reggie Presson and Demetrius McNeary will vie for playing time at running back.
"With our numbers, we have to be very careful in practice," Harley said. "I think we'll be able to move the ball pretty well offensively, our pass protection is OK and I think we are very aggressive on defense."
Frederick Douglass Eagles
Last year: 8-3, lost in 2A South Region final to River Hill.
Returning starters: 3 offense, 2 defense.
Douglass in a word: Inexperienced. The Eagles took a big hit in June with the graduation of linebacker Devon Bridges and running back Trey Massey, but coach J.C. Pinkney says talent and experience have never been the driving forces behind recent success.
"It's always been about desire with this team," Pinkney said.
One of three returning offensive starters, senior Richard Barber is the most experienced quarterback in the county with a 17-6 record in two seasons. Barber accounted for more than 1,000 yards of offense and 16 touchdowns last season.
"He's ready to lead this year and frankly, he has to," Pinkney said.
Barber will lead a newly staffed triple-option attack that will feature Emmanuel Paul at fullback, who amassed 504 yards and four touchdowns at tailback in 2008. Seniors Ryan Sims and Scottie Newman will share tailback duties.
The trio might run into trouble behind a restructured offensive line. Left guard Von Miles, who started two games last year, is the only returning linemen with varsity starting experience.
Safety William McKenzie and linebacker Emani Benjamin will lead a defense that lost nine starters from last year's team.
Gwynn Park Yellow Jackets
Last year: 8-3, lost in 2A South Region semifinals to River Hill.
Returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense.
Gwynn Park in a word: Motivated. Coach Danny Hayes was careful not to make predictions about this season. His only focus is Week 1 after the Yellow Jackets stumbled at the end of 2008. They lost at home against rival Frederick Douglass, then were knocked out of the playoffs by eventual Class 2A state champ River Hill.
"We are going to just try to do it one game at a time this season," said Hayes. "We will have to be in shape to do what we have to do and we can't look any further ahead than Forestville [in the season opener]."
Senior Khalek Shepherd (5-10, 185) is the main running threat after totaling 938 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. Towson University-bound Everett Weldon (6-1, 180) will play at receiver and safety. Senior Curtis Hardy (6-1, 180), who is being recruited by New Mexico, and senior Aaron Lewis are also top receiving options for new starting quarterback Zach Jefferson (5-11, 175).
Seniors Brian Blue (6-0, 200) and Kevin Law (5-11, 230) return at linebacker and Jerome June (6-3, 250) returns at defensive end.
Last year: 5-5.
Returning starters: 5 offense, 7 defense.
Largo in a word: Hungry. New coach David Fant said he's as excited about the upcoming season as his players, and it has made for a smooth transition as Fant takes over for Del Hughes.
"These kids didn't allow the summer to keep them from working out," said Fant. "I have to commend them. They never stopped working out or playing football on their own."
The Lions have not been in the playoffs since 1995, but they stayed in playoff contention much of last season. Fant is not looking beyond the season opener against Baltimore-Poly, which qualified for the Class 2A North Region playoffs the past two seasons.
Senior Jermaine Quattlebaum (5-9, 160), who guided the 2007 junior varsity team, takes over as the varsity quarterback. Junior Darius Smith (5-9, 175), up from junior varsity, and speedy returning senior Deangelo Monroe (5-8, 170) will carry the ball. Senior Dennis Wolley (5-10, 170) will be a top receiving target.
Seniors Khalid Branch (6-4, 210) and Donte Harris (6-4, 200) are among the key defensive returnees. Fant said Branch is the team's "motivator and leader." He said returning senior cornerback Mohamed Conteh (5-10, 175) is an "all-around athlete who coaches the team on the field."
Returning senior Alonzo Hart (5-8, 260) will start at center and also on the defensive line.
Last year: 6-4.
Returning starters: 3 offense, 6 defense.
Potomac in a word: Promise. In his 12 years as a head coach and second with the Wolverines, Chris Davidson said his 2009 team may be his best yet.
"I have an incredible group of young men with great character," said Davidson. "They are athletic, dedicated and strong. We're young, just like last year, but more seasoned. They are the most complete team I've ever had."
Senior Devonta Tabannah (5-11, 165) returns not at receiver, but as the starting quarterback. He accumulated nearly 1,500 yards of total offense last season, including 31 catches for 603 yards and nine touchdowns. A member of last year's Gazette-Star All-County First Team, Tabannah has several college scholarship offers.
Sophomore Ronald Darby adds speed to the backfield. He was a Class 3A state runner-up in the 100 meters last spring. Junior D'mitrius Ballard (6-1, 170) gives Tabannah a target at receiver, and he also plays free safety. Ballard is one of the top 165-pound Junior Division boxers in the country.
Basketball big man Dave Brockenberry (6-6, 220), a senior, will debut at tight end/defensive end. Senior Terrell McGowan (6-2, 195) anchors the defense at inside linebacker. He led the team in tackles last season. Senior Deonte Caldwell (6-0, 230) started every game last season at defensive end and is the emotional and vocal leader for the Wolverines.
Last year: 3-7.
Returning starters: 6 offense, 3 defense.
Surrattsville in a word: Young. Coach Robert Harris begins his second season with the Hornets having lost 12 players from last year to graduation. While the Hornets' youth is a concern, there are plenty of speedy players remaining who will play key roles.
"Our No. 1 factor is speed in the backfield," said Harris. "We also have a lot of upcoming JV players and many transfers on the defensive side of the ball. Last year was a transition and it was rough on everyone with the new schemes that we put in."
Aurelius Kitchens (5-8, 190), the team's leading rusher last season, and Joseph Rollins Jr. (5-5, 150) return and give the Hornets much of that backfield speed. The pair combined for nearly 900 yards last season. Both are accomplished track stars, with Rollins and Kitchens finishing 1-2 in the Class 1A South Region 100 meters last spring.
Seniors Leroy Williams, (6-4, 368) returns at tackle, while junior Trey Carroll (6-0, 260) starts at center and defensive tackle. Senior Toure Graham Jr. (5-10, 210) returns at middle linebacker and offensive guard. Senior Solomon Steele (6-1, 208) will punt and play linebacker, and will also see action at offensive guard.