So Howard County is not Odessa, Texas. There are no freshman teams, players don't fly to road games across the state, the stadiums do not seat north of 20,000 fans and games are not televised on ESPN.
But Howard County football is on the rise. In the past five years alone, local teams have yielded three state champions, numerous Division I scholarships and a first-round NFL draft pick.
"We stack up top to bottom as good as any county in the state," said Hammond coach Dan Makosy, who coached Montgomery County powerhouse Damascus to three state titles before coming to Howard County three seasons ago.
Last year Makosy coached the Golden Bears to their first piece of a county title and playoff win in school history. With all-county running backs Dionte Jones and Devon Paye back, Hammond enters the 2011 season as a favorite to compete for a county title for the first time in, well, forever. Jones, a junior, and Paye, a senior, rushed for 2,500 yards and 31 touchdowns last year.
"Devon and Dionte are bigger and faster and stronger," Makosy said. "We're really excited about now and the future."
But whichever team claims the crown this year is going to have to earn it. Wilde Lake won its sixth state championship last year, but graduated the deep senior class that got them there. River Hill has been one of the state's winningest programs in the past decade and can not be overlooked. Atholton, the team that ended River Hill's league winning streak at 48 games last October, returns five all-county players, more than any team in the county.
Most coaches agree that the county champion will come from that quartet of teams. But there are only so many wins to go around, and precious few playoff spots available. All four teams play in the competitive 12-team Class 3A East region, and only four teams can make the playoffs.
Glenelg, Howard, Long Reach and Reservoir each went 5-5 last year. Can one of those teams knock one of the Big Four on its ear? Can anyone duplicate Wilde Lake's exciting state championship run? The answers to those questions will be played out on the field starting Friday, Sept. 2, as Hammond hosts Wilde Lake in a marquee match up.
To get ready for the 2011 season, read on for rundowns on all 12 teams. Then check the Sidelines blog on explorehoward.com later this week for the first edition of the Power Rankings. On Sept. 2, follow ACHoCoSports on Twitter for in-game updates, and check explorehoward.com every Saturday morning for a look at all of the action around the league.
Todd Kriner, who paid his dues as an assistant coach since the mid-1990s, takes over a Centennial program which has struggled for the past several seasons. Kriner was a quarterback at Williamsport (Pa.) High School. He became a guidance counselor and junior varsity football coach at Atholton in the mid 1990s and was on the Raiders coaching staff as an assistant until 2008. Last year, he joined the Centennial coaching staff and applied for the head position in the offseason when Ken Senisi stepped down.
"My father was a football coach so it's in my blood," Kriner said. "It's been something I've been wanting to do for years."
Tom Minard, who led Mt. Hebron lacrosse to state championships in 2002 and 2006, is the new coach at Marriotts Ridge. The Mustangs have not won a game since 2008. Minard played defensive back for Doug DuVall at Wilde Lake, where Mike Harrison was a teammate, and coached with Pete Hughes at Long Reach from 1996 to 2001. He coached the Marriotts Ridge JV football team last year after taking some time away from the gridiron.
"I've always done JV football just to get kids to come out for lacrosse," Minard said. "I'm extremely excited to get this opportunity."
The Marriotts Ridge job opened up when Tom Browne moved to Oakland Mills, his alma mater, to take over the head coach position there. Browne, whose brother, Jon, is the Scorpions head basketball coach, played for Ken Hovet on Oakland Mills' 1998 state championship team. Hovet went on to coach Marriotts Ridge from 2005 to 2009. He passed away in June of 2010 at age 49 after battling kidney cancer.
"Oakland Mills has always been my home and I've always been looking to get back there," Tom Browne said.
To make room, Jimmy DiPietro returns to his role as the Oakland Mills JV head coach.
2010 record: 8-2 county, 8-3 overall, Class 3A East semifinalist
Coach: Kyle Schmitt, third season