Although Catonsville High School's football team has faced its share of adversity on its run to the playoffs, after the Comets' postseason-clinching 32-6 triumph over Parkville Nov. 2, one group was still standing strong and together.
Freshman center Jake Faircloth, senior guard Brandon Dixon, sophomore guard Zack Delker, senior tackle Mason Klompus and junior tackle Julian Robinson were still intact after 10 regular-season games.
Even last year, the 12-1 2011 state semifinalists had very few changes in the offensive line.
In fact, Klompus was the only one who battled injuries last season, and he knew he would get his chance to shine this season as a senior.
This year, his role has expanded to more than just full-time starter — and offensive line coach John Youngberg couldn't be prouder.
Klompus and Dixon, the only other returning starter, are in control of the blocking assignments for the third-seeded Comets, who will travel to Montgomery County to meet Sherwood (8-2) in the first round of the regional playoffs Nov. 9.
"It is Klompus and Dixon who are making most of the blocking calls on the field and the plays could be different on every play," Youngberg said. "They are both intelligent and we've had them for multiple years."
Klompus (6-1, 255) even uses the junior varsity contests, which are played a day before the varsity game, as a learning tool.
"Mason has watched every JV game, and we watch every play from the sideline and talk about what the plays are," Youngberg said. "He can see it as quickly as the coaches. "
Passing his knowledge to the younger players is also very helpful.
"One of the great things is these guys are now coaching the younger kids as well, and it's different when it comes from peers," said Youngberg, who played four years at guard for Towson University. "He understands the game, and he's patient and a good teacher."
That helped Delker (5-10, 220) make the transition from JV to varsity starter and Faircloth to go from middle school prospect to the Comets' first-ever starting rookie lineman.
"Delker stepped up in a huge way," Youngberg said. "Physically, he grew a tremendous amount from last year. He's very physical, has good upper body strength and he's only going to get better. Plus, he's very intelligent and he understands the game."
Youngberg knew the first day of summer practice that Faircloth had football smarts, but he had to make sure he was aware of the program's history.
"He showed up in an Old Mill (High) shirt ,and I told him that is not really a good shirt for us around here because of what happened in the playoff game last year. He chuckled," Youngberg recalled.
After all, Old Mill ended Catonsville's 12-game winning streak in a 2011 state semifinal.
There was nothing funny about Faircloth's first impression, mentally or physically.
"Typically, it takes a number of years to be able to learn the system, and I think Faircloth's football IQ is so high for any high school player — let alone a freshman," Youngberg said.
Faircloth proved his value once offensive line drills started.
"Not only is he built like a football player (5-foot-7, 205), but his footwork is fantastic, so on the third day I went over to the other coaches and I said I wanted to bring up this freshman and look at him as the starting center. They thought I was crazy," Youngberg said. "As soon as he got in the mix with the other guys, he was a natural."
The move also strengthened the Comets' defense, because it allowed projected center Cheldon Simon to shift to the defensive line.
On the right side of Faircloth is Dixon, and his veteran leadership and fiery demeanor makes him special.
"He is just extremely intense and he is goes 100 miles per hour all the time," Youngberg said. "It doesn't matter if it's a drill in practice or he is running against (blocking) bags, his intensity is really unmatched by most kids I've ever seen at the high school level."
Dixon just wants to see his running backs gain a lot of yards.
Last year, Dixon (5-10, 235) and senior Antoine Wright were selected to the All-County Team after helping the Comets rush for over 3,626 yards.
DeAndré Lane, who gained 1,728 yards rushing and scored 21 touchdowns, also earned All-County honors and over the summer made a verbal commitment to play football for the University of Maryland.
This season, Lane missed part of three games with a hamstring injury and still rushed for 917 yards.
"This is a great offensive line," Lane said. "They are blocking and making great holes for the backs."
Senior Joseth Hylton led the team with 926 yards rushing and he has scored 17 touchdowns.
"We all like to see the running backs go far," Dixon said. "We don't care if our name gets in the paper, and we don't care how the line is viewed, as long as the ball goes down the field and as long as we score, then we are all happy."
Fullback Julian Singletary rushed for 332 yards and reserve fullback Devin Ray and reserve halfback Keon Webb have combined for 294 yards.
Left tackle Robinson (6-2, 240) had a taste of success last season when he was brought up from JV to varsity for the playoffs.
He's earned his starting spot this season.
"We run a majority of our plays to the right, but most of our big hitters are on the left. Julian is an integral in that scoring process," Youngberg said.
Tight end Teddy Crayton has been more than just a key blocker.
He leads the team in receptions (9), receiving yards (173) and touchdown catches (5).
"He is a tremendously strong kid, phenomenal athlete and he likes the physicality of the game," Youngberg said. "Everybody evolves and with his capabilities, he is going to be split wide more and more on routes and force the defense to adjust to what we are doing."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun