On Friday night, after more than nine months — 280 days to be exact — since Annapolis took the field in Gaithersburg against Quince Orchard, Anne Arundel County high schools will again compete on the gridiron.
The usual suspects are in the usual positions of high preseason expectations, but the county’s journey toward competitive depth from teams 1 through 12 grows stronger each fall.
“You are gonna see good, quality football from the county in general,” Meade coach Albert Jones said. “The usual suspects have gotten better, but all of the teams have gotten better as well.”
The Panthers were the last county team standing, winning their first region crown since 2000. Annapolis’ record has improved every year under coach Nick Good-Malloy, but a young squad will be pressed to improve on last year’s 11-2 mark and make the playoffs for a third straight season.
“We are very excited about this season,” Good-Malloy said. “We have some good, young talent that is looking to pick up where last year's very successful seniors left off.”
Good-Malloy said the team’s motto this season is “Keep Moving Forward.” Ahmon Middleton moves to quarterback behind an experienced line, led by seniors Jack Cowger, Colby Missel and Chuck Taylor. Omar’od White was an all-purpose standout and Dayshawn Womack and Deon Hunt return to lead the defense, with Hunt also stepping in to replace Cameron Hough at running back.
Broadneck is stacked with returning talent and is a strong favorite to make its fifth straight trip to the postseason. Shane Davis threw for more than 2,000 yards, Jason Carcamo rushed for more than 1,200, and Ethon Williams is already attracting top Division I scholarships after posting 843 yards and nine touchdowns receiving as a sophomore. Caelan Shepard is a another talented, big Bruins’ lineman, and Nicky Orofino gives them team its usual special teams threat at kicker.
“Our team returns all its skill players but one, and three of the five offensive line,” coach Rob Harris said. “We have seven three-year varsity defensive players and seven starters returning. I think the county will be strong again.”
Old Mill hasn’t missed the playoffs this millennium, and odds are in its favor for a 19th straight trip. Isaiah Batts steps in at running back for Sirus Gray, who rushed for 1,700 yards last year. Marcus Thompson and Avion Robinson are vying for the starting quarterback spot and the Patriots are expected to have their usual stingy defense, led by Aaron Dawson, who will also line up at fullback.
Arundel has posted two straight 7-3 seasons, but missed the playoffs both years after making 12 straight trips to the postseason. The Wildcats are pushing to end the smaller streak with another high-octane offense and strong defense. Ryan Sedgwick completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and threw for 38 touchdowns, while Darius Hunter rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and scored 22 touchdowns overall. Four-year starter Ephraim Moore leads a defensive unit that includes Terrance Scales, Will Oliver and DJ Best.
“We are optimistic about our prospects this season as, last season, we had to endure the flaws of youth,” Arundel coach Chuck Markiewicz said. ‘We feel good about our offense as we have a number of very capable athletes returning. Defensively, we feel like we made great strides physically, as last year we fielded a team dominated by underclassmen. Barring injury, it should be a productive fall in Gambrills.”
Meade (6-4), North County (5-5) and Severna Park (5-5) all took steps forward last season. The Mustangs return nine starters on defense, led by Eric Weaver and Cam Smith. Alijah Mateen steps in at quarterback and has multiple big options to throw to, including 6-foot-6 Anthony May. Jones, in his third year, is seeing his team’s growth every day.
“We are trying to make things happen, you know, staying in our corner and getting things done,” Jones said. “We have a lot of game experience returning, and we started ahead of the curve because people returned in the positions they were in last year. Things we worked on previously are coming to fruition now.”
Quinten Jones is the lone new coach among the public-school teams in the county, taking over at North County, which won five of six to close last season. Quarterback Deontez Parker, running back Chris Leslie and wide receiver Jamare White lead an offense that posted 23 points a game. Anthony Dabrowski and Daiton Lopez return for a defense that posted two shutouts.
The Falcons, who once again will play its home games at Northeast High School, improved by two wins in Coach Will Bell’s second year. Josh Coffman scored 12 combined receiving, rushing and return touchdowns and is a threat with the ball anywhere on the field. Big back Joseph Jennings returns to move the chains as well.
Glen Burnie won four games last season under coach Eric Woodson, and continue to get faster and stronger on ball sides of the ball. Tyren Thompson and Chimal Jones will be threats on offense, where Markus Sidwell and Dominik Carroll are competing for the starting quarterback spot. Joe Jennings made 100 tackles last fall, and leads an aggressive defense charged with allowing less points this fall.
South River is down in numbers, but four starters are back on the offensive line. The Seahawks are deep at quarterback, including Caleb Edney, who returns from an injury. Xavier Lockwood returns to the team and could be a dangerous threat, and coach Ed Dolch feels the offense could the most explosive one he’s had. Despite the lack of depth, Dolch feels the team can compete if it stays healthy.
Excitement is abundant in Pasadena, as Northeast is making great strides in coach Brian Baublitz’ second season. Baublitz regularly throws around the ‘p’ word, and the Eagles’ first playoff appearance since 1981, and second overall, is a distinct possibility.
“We have raised expectations here and the playoffs will always be an expectation here as long as I am coaching,” Baublitz said. “We may not get there, but that is the expectation we are going to have, and the players are buying in.”
Anthony Valinotti and Dany Baker, III are vying for the starting quarterback position and Davon Carroll and Demontay Snowden are speedsters that can make a difference on both sides of the ball.
Chesapeake struggled last season with a very young squad following the school’s first postseason appearance in 2015. Those growing pains last fall could pay dividends this campaign, as running back Colby McNulty and a veteran line have the Cougars trending upward.
Steve Erxleben’s Southern team struggled to overcome injuries last fall, but that has produced more depth, as the Bulldogs are also pointing forward in their progression. Quarterback Austin Buiniskis has returning receiver Ryley Odell among several options on the outside, and Glenn Parker should get several goal-line touchdowns with his size. Josh Merkle and Marquette Kennedy lead an improving defense.
“It’s a process, and the kids have responded well to what we are trying to do,” Erxleben said.
As always, expectations are high once again for Kent Island. The Bucs lost just 11 seniors from last year’s team that qualified for the postseason for the ninth straight year, so optimism is high once again. Queen Anne’s and North Caroline figure to be two of their top competitors in the Bayside Conference.