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Football: Howard County kicks off 2012 season in search of third straight state title

If history repeats itself, Howard County will have a state championship football team this year.

Each of the past two years, and in four of the last five seasons, a local team has hoisted the trophy at M&T Bank Stadium in December.

Of course, getting to that point did not involve luck or providence. It takes good coaches, good players and good football to rise above every other team in the state. It just so happens that lately, Howard County has had all of those things.

And 2012 will be no different.

River Hill, a winner of three of those state championships under coach Brian Van Deusen, will attempt to make its tenth straight playoff appearance this fall behind seniors Evan Griffin and Stephan Osong. But Glenelg, which lost to the eventual state champion Hawks, 21-20, in overtime last October but rebounded to win nine games and make the regional championship game, returns perhaps more talent than any team in the league, including quarterback Mark Darden and RB/LB Nick Crabill. And even though it graduated ten all-county players, including defensive Player of the Year Steve Whiting and starting quarterback Brian McMahon, Atholton has won 28 games over the past three seasons under coach Kyle Schmitt, making the Raiders a perennial contender.

"I think the county is loaded. For a couple of years we've been kind of a sleeping giant, a hidden gem in the state," said Schmitt, whose team ended River Hill's 48-game league winning streak in 2010. "The football is excellent program wide (across the county) and the committment of the kids is great."

Hammond, which returns senior running back Dionte Jones, who helped the Golden Bears to their best season in school history in 2010, and Wilde Lake, which won a state title in 2010, will both be looking to bounce back after a disappointing end to last fall, when each team lost three of its last five games to miss the postseason.

"We've got to live with that experience and we've certainly used it for motivation," Wilde Lake coach Mike Harrison said. "If you stop to take a breath you're going to lose, you don't get a break ... if someone's a football fan in the state of Maryland and doesn't understand that there is good football in Howard County, they haven't been doing their home work."

While Howard has not had much postseason success, the Lions have qualified for the postseason in three of the last five seasons under coach Bruce Strunk, and this season return Michael Anderson, the league's top returning rusher.

Long Reach has never had a losing season since the school opened in 1997 under coach Pete Hughes, and with six starters back on each side of the ball, the Lightning hope that this is the season that they break back into the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

Under first year coach Philip Zacharias, whose extensive coaching experience includes stints with the University of Maryland and the Baltimore Ravens, Mt. Hebron could be poised for its first winning season since 2004 with talented seniors Malik Gilmore and Jackson Porter leading the way at quarterback and running back, and junior Zach Nicholas, a three-year starter, in the defensive backfield.

"The good teams are the good teams, and they have been the good teams. We need to try to get into the mix," Zacharias said. "Howard County football has evolved: it's gotten better.".

Meanwhile, the county has also seen an influx of talent from the outside. Most notably, Atholton senior quarterback Luke Casey, who transferred in from Mount St. Joseph, and Wilde Lake two-way lineman Moise Larose, a Rutgers recruit who transferred in from Meade.

So while a state championship takes a special combination of talent, good coaching, teamwork and a lot of hard work, Howard County once again has all of the ingredients to make the dream a reality.

In fact, with local teams representing the 2A and 3A classifications, why not make it two?

Atholton

2011 record: 9-1 county, 10-2 overall, Class 3A East regional finalist

Coach: Kyle Schmitt, fourth season

Returning offensive starters: 2; Returning defensive starters: 2.

Top players (offense): Seniors Pat Mullens (RB/WR), Brandon Anthony (WR/LB), Zach Plotkin (OL), Keyon Pinnock (WR) and Luke Casey (QB).

Top players (defense): Seniors Jamal Washington (LB), Hunter Carter-Rimbach (CB), Godfrey Ovia (DE), Ben Mathews (DT) and Graham Kantor (LB).

Scouting report: Atholton may have been hit harder by graduation than any other team in the league, returning only two starters on each side of the ball, but after playing to a 28-7 record over the past three seasons, the Raiders have earned the reputation as a winning program. Brian McMahon, who led the team as quarterback each of the last two seasons, is now a reserve tight end at Maryland, but his replacement — Mount St. Joseph transfer Luke Casey — is capable of big things. At 6-4, Casey has similar size and playmaking ability to McMahon, who passed and ran for a combined 2,000 yards and 20 TDs last year. Plotkin is one of the league's best returning linemen. Mullens (89 yards, 5 TD) and Carter-Rimbach are the top two returning rushers, and Anthony, perhaps the team's best all-around athlete, is the top returning receiver. Defensively, Mullens and Washington combined for more than 100 tackles last year, but almost everyone else is new. Junior Cody Stolar, a top JV call-up at linebacker, should make a significant impact on varsity.

Centennial

2011 record: 1-9 county, 1-9 overall

Coach: Todd Kriner, second season

Returning offensive starters: 9; Returning defensive starters: 6.

Top players (offense): Juniors Tyler Morris (QB), Walter Fletcher (RB/DB), Chase Conley (WR/DB), Quinn Western (RB) and Damon Reeves (WR/S).

Top players (defense): Seniors Alex Eason (DE), Kyle Homens (LB) and Chris Sexton (DL); juniors Michael Price (LB/RB) and Anthony Saunders (DE).

Scouting report: Centennial was young last year, with only about a dozen seniors on the roster, and they're still young this year with juniors occupying just about every skill position on offense. The good news is that most of the youngsters got experience last year as juniors, including Morris (433 passing yards), Fletcher (team-high 362 rushing yards) and Conley (7 catches, 90 yards). With all those players returning after a year of growth, Centennial should be able to improve on the anemic 6.8 points per game (worst in the league) it scored last year, including six shut outs. The Eagles also return six players on defense, but will sorely miss bookend defensive ends Pat Zarek and Chris Peterson.

Glenelg

2011 record: 8-2 county, 9-3 overall, Class 2A South regional finalist

Coach: Butch Schaffer, seventh season

Returning offensive starters: 8; Returning defensive starters: 7.

Top players (offense): Seniors Ben Carta (TE/DE) and Mark Darden (QB/DB); junior David Brookhart (WR/DB).

Top players (defense): Seniors Nick Crabill (LB/RB), Sean Twigg (DL/OL) and Drew Dziwulski (LB/RB).

Scouting report: After breaking through with an eight-win regular season last year, and a trip to the 2A South regional championship game, Glenelg is in good position to build on that success. Although the Gladiators graduated several key pieces of their defense — including defensive Player of the Year candidate Glenn Lucas (136 total tackles) — they return more proven talent than arguably any other team in the league. On offense, Darden (620 passing yards, 8 TD, 1 INT), Crabill (732 rushing yards, 9 TD), Brookhart (22 catches, 248 yards, 3 TD) and Carta (10 catches, 121 yards, 2 TD) are all back to headline a potent attack. Twigg, who won a heavyweight state wrestling championship last winter, will make a strong foundation for both lines. The Gladiators also boast an effective kicking game, with Luke Brister returning after having kicked a 43-yard field goal last year.

Hammond

2011 record: 6-4 county, 6-4 overall

Coach: Dan Makosy, fourth season

Returning offensive starters: 7; Returning defensive starters: 7.

Top players (offense): Seniors Dionte Jones (RB/DB), Derek Sicca (LG) and Arnett Dorsey (C); junior Tyler Martin (QB).

Top players (defense): Seniors Humphrey Anuh (LB), Garrett Kelley (FS/WR) and Chris Hall (DB/WR).

Scouting report: Hammond stumbled down the stretch last season, losing three of it's last five games after enjoying its best season in school history in 2010, as offensive Player of the Year Devon Paye did his best to carry a struggling offense. This year the Golden Bears will look to be more unpredictable on offense, with Jones — who sat out the end of last season but gained almost 1,200 yards of total offense in 2010 — as the featured back. And when Hammond wants to throw the ball, Martin (553 passing yards, 8 TDs as a sophomore), Jones, Kelley and Carr are certainly capable. The defense, which held opponents to only 17 points per game last season, should be strong again, with Anuh (90 tackles, 4 sacks) leading the way.

Howard

2011 record: 7-3 county, 7-4 overall, Class 3A East regional qualifier

Coach: Bruce Strunk, fifth season

Returning offensive starters: 5; Returning defensive starters: 4.

Top players (offense): Seniors Austin Blair (QB), Jack Friedman (OL), Michael Anderson (RB) and Brady Curley (RB/WR); junior Peter Emery (OL).

Top players (defense): Seniors Zach Grasser (DL), Brandon Addai (DL), Dave Holland (DL) and Andrew Young (DB); juniors Brett Schaeffer (LB), Jared Rodriguez (LB) and Kyle Walker (DB).

Scouting report: The perennial playoff contending Lions should be able to hold their own in the league again this fall even after graduating a starting quarterback and several key linemen. Howard has plenty going for it, including the top returning rusher in the county, Anderson (875 yards, 12 TD). Blair served as a back-up to Ryan Wade last year, but has varsity experience and should be able to work with Anderson and Curley — back after an injury shortened 2011 — to make the offense run. Meanwhile, Friedman — an all-county second team selection last year — will help stabilize a pair of green lines. Young, who picked off three passes last year, will help slow down opposing passing attacks.

Long Reach

2011 record: 7-3 county, 7-3 overall

Coach: Pete Hughes, 17th season

Returning offensive starters: 6; Returning defensive starters: 6.

Top players (offense): Seniors Dominic Willams (OT), Brendon Thomas (OT), Daqaun Dixon (RB), Darius Fisk (RB) and Xavier Haywood-Irani (RB).

Top players (defense): Seniors Kyle Jones (LB), Alex Nobleman (DE), Eric Montag (LB) and Jack St. Hilaire (LB); juniors Rob Carter (S), Mike Conlan (LB) and Tom Montag (LB).

Scouting report: It won't be easy to replace the production of graduated running back Allen Cross, who ran for almost 1,400 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, but Dixon — who tallied almost 600 yards and 10 touchdowns — and Fisk do have experience, helping the Lightning score almost 33 points per game last season. Strong line-play is a tradition at Long Reach, and Williams (6-3, 305) and Thomas (6-1, 290) will look to live up to that reputation. Junior Deon Williams, a transfer from Meade, should fill in nicely at center. A swarming linebacking corps, led by Conlon (103 tackles, 10 sacks), should keep opponents from racking up points. Hughes has never had a losing season at Long Reach, and he has the personnel to keep up the winning ways in 2012.

Marriotts Ridge

2011 record: 0-10 county, 0-10 overall

Coach: Tom Minard, second season

Returning offensive starters: 6; Returning defensive starters: 6.

Top players (offense): Seniors Marcus Smith (RB) and Duncan Campbell (WR); juniors David Bryant (QB) and Byran Barney (WR).

Top players (defense): Seniors Lyle Fugate (LB), Jack Dawes (LB), Nick Gelso (DL) and Ryan Austin (DE).

Scouting report: It's been several lean years in a row now for the Mustangs, who have not won a game since 2008, but hope to turn things around in 2012 with battle-tested players returning on both sides of the football. Bryant saw limited action under center last year, while Smith (519 yards) and Barney (370 yards) led the team in rushing and receiving, respectively. Physical size on defense has been a problem for Marriotts Ridge, but with upperweight wrestlers Fugate and Austin mixing it up on the gridiron for the second straight year, the team should improve on the 37.7 points per game allowed last year.

Mt. Hebron

2011 record: 3-7 county, 3-7 overall

Coach: Philip Zacharias, first season

Returning offensive starters: 7; Returning defensive starters: 9.

Top players (offense): Seniors Malik Gilmore (QB), Jackson Porter (RB), Alex Krynski (OL), Mike O'Rourke (WR/DB).

Top players (defense): Seniors Anthony Lewis (DE), Brandon Leach (LB) and Steve White (DT); juniors Zach Nicholas (SS) and Antonio Vogt (LB).

Scouting report: With a new coach and more returning starters than any other team in the county, Mt. Hebron is poised to take another step forward after hitting a low-point with a one-win season in 2010. Although the Vikings' defense allowed almost 30 points per game on average last year (an eight point per game improvement over the previous season), the real problem was on offense, where they scored only nine points per game and were shut out four times. This fall, though, the offense could be a strength, with Gilmore and Porter returning as two of the league's top returning playmakers. Porter rushed for 228 yards and caught 17 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns, and Gilmore — a dual threat at quarterback — passed for 639 yards and five touchdowns before going down with an injury. O'Rourke took over for Gilmore at quarterback late last year, but this year he should be the team's top receiver and a key piece in the defensive backfield. Nicholas is the team's top returning tackler with 65, but he is also one of the best all around athletes and could serve an important role on offense as well.

Oakland Mills

2011 record: 1-9 county, 1-9 overall

Coach: Tom Browne, second season

Returning offensive starters: 5; Returning defensive starters: 4.

Top players (offense): Seniors Roy Kadje (G) and Corbin Bailey (QB); junior Dershone Hayman (TE).

Top players (defense): Senior Jimmy Riss (DT); juniors Javonte Rose (LB) and Ian McFarlane (LB).

Scouting report: The Scorpions will be starting fresh again in 2012 with a number of new faces on offense and defense. McFarlane rushed for more than 100 yards last year, taking the handoff 38 times, while Rose also has varsity experience. Hayman caught five passes for 87 yards last year as a sophomore. Top receiver and tackler Dominic Drew, a first team all-county selection, will be sorely missed. With his size (5-10, 300 pounds) and pummelling ability, Kadje — who placed fourth at heavyweight in the state wrestling tournament — will be an asset on the lines. Bailey takes over at quarterback for Kurtis Coleman, who threw for more than 800 yards last year as a senior.

Reservoir

2011 record: 6-4 county, 6-4 overall

Coach: Bryan Cole, fourth season

Returning offensive starters: 4; Returning defensive starters: 6.

Top players (offense): Seniors Robert Armstrong (RB/DB), Cameron Brooks (RB/DB); juniors Avian White (FB/DE) and Matt Schuster (QB).

Top players (defense): Seniors Zack Hess (LB/RB), Dario Burley (NG/OL) and James Simms (LB/TE).

Scouting report: It would be a tall order for the Gators to put on an aerial display like they did over the last two seasons, a span in which E.J. Montgomery completed 180 passes for 3,000 yards and 33 touchdowns. But since opening in 2002, Reservoir has shown steady improvement each season, and has never had a shortage of talented players, so the Gators can be expected to contend again this year behind top playmaker Armstrong, who rushed for 215 yards and caught 22 passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns. Brooks was also a contributor to the running game last season. Hess returns as one of the team's defensive leaders, having made 77 tackles last season when Reservoir held opponents to an impressive 12.4 points per game.

River Hill

2011 record: 8-2 county, 12-2 overall, Class 3A state champion

Coach: Brian Van Deusen, 13th season

Returning offensive starters: 5; Returning defensive starters: 5.

Top players (offense): Seniors Evan Griffin (RB/S), Austin Altman (QB), Nick Ball (WR/DB) and Justin Nestor (T/DE).

Top players (defense): Seniors Stephan Osong (LB/RB), Justin Arn (LB/RB) and Noah Carter (CB/HB); junior Logan Kirby (NG).

Scouting report: While the defending state champion Hawks again find themselves having to replace a sizable and talented senior class, their plight is no different from any other season. And as the numbers show, River Hill is as good as any team in the state at reloading. The Hawks have won three state titles in the last five years, and over the past decade boast a record of 112-13, best in the state. This year, River Hill will attempt to make its tenth consecutive playoff appearance. While the Hawks graduated their starting quarterback (Raamah Vaughn), a first team all-county running back — Aaron Wells (1,366 yards, 20 TD) — their top five tacklers and the league's interception leader — Randall Lawson (9) — they are far from empty-handed. Griffin rushed for 650 yards and nine touchdowns last year and is the team's punter and kick returner. Alongside Osong, with 430 yards of offense and 85 tackles last year, the Hawks shouldn't see much of a drop-off from last season, when they rushed for 3,600 yards as a team. Altman did get some experience under center last year, passing for 300 yards in four games. Kirby (four sacks) and fellow junior Cory Daniel (TE), Cyrus Vaughn (RB/LB) and Kalonji Moore (RB/LB) represent the best of the class of 2014.

Wilde Lake

2011 record: 4-6 county, 4-6 overall

Coach: Mike Harrison, fourth season

Returning offensive starters: 4; Returning defensive starters: 4.

Top players (offense): Seniors Moise Larose (OT/DE), Nate Haase (TE/LB) and Wayne Long (RB/LB); juniors Spencer Ampofo (QB) and Tyrone Hayward (RB/CB).

Top players (defense): Seniors Eric Handy (LB/FB), Shawn Winans (LB/RB), Tola Morakinyo (DE/TE) and Trevon Jacks (CB/RB); junior Malik Jackson (FS/WR).

Scouting report: Last year's four-win season was uncharacteristic for Wilde Lake, which won a state title in 2010, and the Wildecats want nothing better then to reclaim their winning reputation. Larose, a 6-3, 285-pound two-way lineman who has committed to play for Rutgers next year and transferred in from Meade last winter, looks to add a great push at the point of attack. The team again graduated most of its returning rushers, but Long (119 yards, 3 TD) showed some pop last year, gaining seven yards per carry. As a sophomore, Ampofo took every snap at quarterback with mixed results last year, but with a year of growth (6-1, 170) and experience under his belt, and the protection of Larose, Harrison expects good things out of his signal caller. Handy (87 tackles, 12 for loss, 5 fumble recoveries) returns to lead a defense that allowed less than 18 points per game last season, but graduated four all-county starters.

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