Sporting excellence adds up for two Owls eyeing future in engineering

The Westminster High School football team put up some gaudy offensive numbers in 2012.

During a 12-1 season, the Owls won a second consecutive county championship, became the third Carroll County team in five years to record an undefeated regular season, then rolled past Montgomery County powers Blake and Sherwood to earn the Class 4A North Region title.

And two of the team's unsung heroes can definitely do the math. Drew Titus and Dan Johnson both plan to major in engineering.

With Titus taking care of his "blind side", senior quarterback Deryk Kern passed for a county-record 3,890 yards, set a state mark with 63 scoring passes and twice equaled the state single-game mark with seven passing touchdowns.

And while the Owls were putting up nearly 45 points per game, the defense allowed just 13.2 points an outing. Playing a hybrid safety-linebacker position, Johnson led the Owls with six sacks and also picked off three interceptions.

The duo did not grab the headlines in a storybook season that came within a missed field goal on the game's final play of a berth in the state championship game at M&T Bank Stadium.

But Westminster would not have made it to the state semifinals without them. Their school, and the city of Westminster, also benefited greatly from their academic and community-related contributions.

Their efforts made them the Carroll Eagle's Fall Sports Student-Athletes.

Protection and perseverance

Drew Titus never played a down of football before he entered Westminster High in the fall of 2009.

Three years later, he was a cornerstone of an offensive unit that set many school, county, and state passing and total offense records.

The 6-foot-1, 235-pound left tackle protected the state's most prolific quarterback as senior receiver Garrett Bean broke the county's single-season receiving yardage record with 1,055 yards while fellow receivers Darius Clifton and Bradley Metcalf became third and fourth all-time in that category.

In a season filled with memorable moments, Titus looks back on the significance of Westminster's thrilling 36-33 week four win over two-time defending West Virginia state champion Martinsburg.

"They were a team that hadn't lost for two years, and it was a true team win," Titus said. "We proved that we could play through adversity. We don't care what our opponent's record is, or what state they're from. That game proved to us that if you have the right attitude and practice hard all week, you will come out with a win. We'd always believed that we could have a good season, but there wasn't much concrete proof of it until we showed what we could do in that game."

The Owls received a lot of headlines, after early-season victories over Martinsburg and Class 3A state semifinalist Urbana. But as an offensive lineman, Titus isn't used to getting much attention.

However, he is quick to point out that the praise that he received from his teammates was very satisfying.

"The way that Deryk and the receivers treated the linemen was better than any other team out there," he said. "It takes a special person to play offensive line on a team that's doing well, because you have to be humble enough to not get offended when you open the newspaper every Saturday and there's a picture of someone else and your name is not mentioned. But you also have to be proud of the work, and recognize that if you mess up that will be when things go wrong and games are lost."

Brad Wilson, the Owls' ninth-year head coach who also coordinates the offensive unit, said Titus' keen football sense had a lot to do with the Owls' success.

"With Drew, it's like having another offensive coach on the field," Wilson said. "We throw the ball a lot, and he's got the most important job of all: protecting the quarterback's back."

While Kern and Bean took their place at the top of the record books, Titus ranks first in the senior class at Westminster with 4.0 unweighted and 4.49 weighted grade point averages.

He has remained a straight A student throughout high school while taking nine Advanced Placement and eight Honors courses.

"The biggest thing is time management," said the son of Richard and Marlene Titus. "When you have a rare day off, the temptation is to do something fun. You can't work 100 percent of the time, but it's all about priorities. School comes first, along with family and sports. Everything else comes after those three things."

Titus was recently accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which is ranked sixth among the universities in America by U.S. News and World Report.

He plans to major in mechanical or electrical engineering and is also applying to Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt, Carnegie Mellon, Virginia, Lehigh and the U.S. Naval Academy.

"If there is one word to describe Drew, it is driven," said Wilson. "What you see academically from him is what we saw on the field. His determination, commitment, self-motivation, and pride were always there.

"There are certain kids who are never satisfied with where they are, whether in the classroom, on the football field, or in the community. They are always looking to improve themselves. Drew is one of those kids. Once he reaches one goal, he moves it up another notch. He doesn't accept mediocrity, and he's always testing himself. "

Despite a demanding academic and athletic schedule, Titus put a priority on helping others in his community.

The senior has accumulated an impressive 173 service hours, beginning in middle school, when he volunteered for camps at Carroll Community College. In high school, the National Honor Society member was a consistent participant in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. He also has pitched in to help Carroll County Food Sunday, and a church-based program called Loaves and Fishes that serves meals to the less fortunate.

"The biggest thing for me was getting to see the poorer side of Westminster," Titus said. "I live in Finksburg, and I don't get to see people in poverty very often. Seeing it here really opened my eyes, and helped me understand that there are a lot of people who need help."

All-around talent

A three-year member of the Westminster varsity, Dan Johnson was the only Owl to start on both the offense and defense.

"It was pretty demanding, physically and mentally," he said. "But since I was a running back, I didn't have to sprint passing routes all the time. I also got a break on special teams, which were very active since we scored a lot of points."

Despite playing in Westminster's pass-oriented offense, Johnson was the county's seventh-leading rusher with 797 yards on 99 carries. His 8.1 yards-per-carry average tied for third among county rushers. The Owls' top back in 2011, Johnson gained 1,182 rushing yards in his Westminster career, including a career-high 227 yards in November's regional championship victory over Sherwood. Johnson finished fourth among county receivers with 38 catches for a 15.1-yard average.

The 5-10, 175-pounder also spearheaded an underrated Westminster defensive unit.

"We made a name for ourselves just by getting the ball back for our offense," said Johnson, who started playing football in the Gamber program 10 years ago "We knew if we got them the ball, we were going to win the game. And after growing up and playing football with Deryk (Kern), it was great to watch him get all the records."

Johnson's most memorable defensive moment came in Westminster's heartbreaking 21-19 defeat to Quince Orchard in the Class 4A state semifinals. The Owl defense held the high-powered Cougar offense to its third-lowest point total of the season, and the highlight was a goal-line stand late in the fourth quarter that gave Westminster the ball for one final drive.

"That stand said a lot about our defense," he recalled. "We gave our offense the opportunity to win the football game."

Immediately after the Owls stopped Quince Orchard on the Westminster three-yard line, Johnson turned around and helped the offense on a dramatic game-ending drive to the Cougars' 20-yard line.

While Wilson admitted that several Owls could have played both ways, he entrusted that responsibility only to Johnson.

"No matter where Dan is on the field, he makes things happen," Wilson said of Johnson, who also punted for the Owls early in the season. "He's a throwback who doesn't want to come off the field. Dan is just a straight-up, impact football player who is smart, quick, and athletic."

Wilson doesn't usually compare players from different eras, but he sees an unmistakable link between Johnson and a standout running back-safety from the 12-2 Westminster team that played for the Class 3A state championship in 2005.

"I think Dan and Ryan Finch are so close as football players," he said. "I never thought I would ever say that, after having coached Ryan. They both make plays, and they're quiet leaders who let their play do the talking."

Johnson also remembers that 2005 team, which lost in a double-overtime classic to Gwynn Park in the state title game at M&T Bank Stadium.

"Our team always looked up to the 2005 team," he said. "We were always trying to match up to them, and get to where they were. Hopefully, we'll be the team that will get remembered in the future."

Johnson, who also plays lacrosse for the Owls, has been as good in the classroom as he was on the football field. The Finksburg resident, who has taken nine Advanced Placement and eight Honors courses at Westminster, has a 3.8 unweighted and 4.43 weighted grade-point-average. He hopes to combine his academic and athletic skills in college, where he plans to study engineering and play football.

"I'm not concerned about whether it's Division I, II, or III," said Johnson, who is being recruited by his grandfather's alma mater, nationally-ranked Johns Hopkins. "I want to go to a good academic school that has an engineering program. I'm very strong in math, and would like to apply the math towards building something. Engineering seems like the perfect fit."

Johnson praises his father for his academic success. As the assistant superintendent of instruction for Carroll County Public Schools, Steve Johnson knows what it takes to succeed in the classroom.

"My dad set the foundation for me," said Johnson, whose mother is Maria Aponte. "He puts everyone before himself, and just wants me to be the best I can be. He gave me a great work ethic, and taught me the value of time management."

Wilson marveled at the academic and athletic balance in the players' lives.

"Like Drew, Dan's play on the field is a reflection of what he does in the classroom," the coach said. "When you have the GPA's that these kids have, especially considering the classes that they're taking, they're not afraid of constantly challenging themselves."

The player with the big heart and sharp mind also shows it in the community. Johnson's 129 hours of community service include helping with the Boys' and Girls' Clubs of America activities at the Westminster FallFest. Johnson particularly likes working with young kids, which he has done at vacation bible schools and at Westminster football camps.

"They look up to you, and help you feel that you are making a difference," he said. "I remember after one game, I was standing on the sideline and a kid was waving to me and saying 'Hey, Dan Johnson.' I had no idea who it was, but he was happy to be talking to me. It makes you feel good."

About this award

Since the fall of 2007, The Carroll Eagle has recognized a Carroll County student-athlete at the conclusion of the fall, winter, and spring sports seasons. The publication also honors an overall Student-Athlete of the Year at the end of the school year.

All students who compete at the varsity level for a Carroll County public school are eligible consideration, based on academic achievement, athletic achievement, and a record of service and good citizenship in the school and community.

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