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
Returning offensive starters: 7; Returning defensive starters: 8
Top players (offense): Seniors Brian McMahon^ (QB), Dequan Ellison* (WR), Paul Federinko^ (OT) and Ian Waddell (WR); junior Zach Plotkin (C).
Top players (defense): Seniors Steve Whiting^ (LB), Ean Katz, (LB), Cameron Fogle (DE), Austin Tennessee (CB) and Morgan Powell (DB).
Scouting report: The team that toppled River Hill last year, but went down to state champion Wilde Lake in the first round of the playoffs, graduated seven all-county players, but somehow brings back more experience than most teams in the county.
"We lost some pretty good players, but we also had some pretty prominent juniors last year," coach Kyle Schmitt said.
At the top of the list are McMahon (1,109 passing yards, 13 TDs, 582 rushing yards) and Ellison (eight TDs). Ellison has been catching passes from McMahon since they played on the junior varsity together and the duo has great rapport. McMahon is also a good runner and should combine with Kendall Newsome and speedster Kenny Thomas (nine rushing TDs) to form a balanced offense.
Federinko was adjusting to the move from England last year, but th tackle should be up to speed this year as a two-way lineman. He has the size (314 pounds) of a Division I prospect and will anchor offensive and defensive lines that opposing coaches have already noticed in preseason scrimages.
Among the newcomers, Brandon Anthony, the younger brother of graduated all-county linebacker Brian Anthony, is the most polished so far. Defensive back Jorry Matherson, a transfer from Virginia, combines with Powell and Tennessee to give the Raiders a defensive backfield without holes. Whiting, Katz and Fogle, who combined for 191 tackles and six sacks, should be able to put lots of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
2010 record: 2-8 county, 2-8 overall
Coach: Todd Kriner, first season
Offensive starters: 3; Defensive starters: 3
Top players (offense): Seniors Chris Peterson^ (WR/DE), Karon Hickman (RB) and Steve Sieron (RB).
Top players (defense): Seniors Kevin Hulvey (LB) and Pat Zarek (DE/TE); sophomore Chase Conley (S).
Scouting report: Centennial is starting fresh in 2011 in many ways: new coach, new players, new system. Kriner is scrapping the throwback single-wing offensive formation that the team used for the past several seasons in favor of a more progressive pro-style offense.
The Eagles lost 23 seniors — more than half of their roster — to graduation.
Peterson and Zarek, who both stand about 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, are the biggest and most experienced players on the team. Peterson caught five passes for more than 100 yards last year and was named to the all-county second team. The book-end defensive ends combined for 17 tackles for loss last year.
Hickman and Sieron look to see plenty of action in two-back sets. Hickman is new to the varsity team, while Sieron showed some playmaking ability last year by breaking a 43-yard run on one of his three carries.
After graduating four all-county defenders, including first-team linemen Zach McHugh and Jamie LeRoy, Centennial will be younger on that side of the ball. One bright spot is Hulvey, who made 43 tackles last year, including a sack and a forced fumble. Conley was called up to varsity as a freshman last year and had one interception.
Kriner faced some lean years at Atholton before watching the team turn things around to make the playoffs.
"That was pretty exciting," he said. "I told these kids, 'I've been a part of that journey and I want you to experience that, too.' "
2010 record: 5-5 county, 5-5 overall
Coach: Butch Schaffer, sixth season
Offensive starters: 1; Defensive starters: 5
Top players (offense): Seniors Blake Richardson (WR/DB) and Jeremy Turcotte (LB/RB); junior Nick Crabill (RB/DB).
Top players (defense): Seniors J.T. Komsa (DE/OL), Glenn Lucas (DB/RB) and John Warfield (RB/LB).
Scouting report: Offensive Player of the Year Colin Osborne, now at Naval Academy Prep School, ran the ball 246 times last year for 1,882 yards and 18 TDs, all tops in the county. Glenelg's leading returning rusher, Crabill, rushed for 74 yards, so it's safe to say that they'll be spreading the ball around much more this year.
The Gladiators also graduated their starting quarterback and top five receivers, but that's no reason for Glenelg backers to panic. Players are typically interchangeable in Schaffer's system, even though it may take three or four to duplicate Osborne's 2010 production.
"We're really young. It's going to have to be a real team effort this year," Schaffer said. "You can't really replace (Osborne) with one player … we're going to have to get some contributions from kids who haven't stepped up in the past."
Glenelg has a little more experience on defense. Lucas had 55 tackles, most among the team's returners, while Komsa had 35 and a pair of sacks. Turcotte and Richardson were also among the team's leading tacklers last year.
As usual, the Gladiators will have some big horses on the lines, including 6-foot-4, 285-pound senior Sean Desrosiers.
Whatever happens, Glenelg will start off the season with a forfeit win over Atholton because of an offseason practice violation by the Raiders.
2010 record: 9-1 county, 10-2 overall, Class 2A South finalist
Coach: Dan Makosy, third season
Offensive starters: 7; Defensive starters: 5
Top players (offense): Seniors Devon Paye* (RB/LB) and Charles Holly (TE/LB); juniors Dionte Jones* (RB//DB), Chris Hall (WR/DB) and Derek Sicca (DL/OL).
Top players (defense): Seniors Akili Moore (DB/WR), Rasheed Lashley* (LB/RB) and Melvin Ikwubuo (DL/TE); junior Garrett Kelly (DB/WR).
Scouting report: Jones and Paye form one of the best running back tandems in the state, but the Golden Bears will not have the luxury of just pounding the ball down the middle of the field when good defenses stack up in the box.
"We're actually going to throw the ball a little more than we did last year," Makosy said.
That should serve to make Hammond's offense a little more dynamic, with receivers such as Jones, Hall and Moore. Those three players also make up the Hammond defensive backfield, along with JV call-up Garrett Kelly. Moore and Jones each intercepted four passes last season.
The Bears are looking to get solid play from sophomore Tyler Martin or Reservoir transfer Lamarre Whitlock at quarterback to replace Josh Whaley.
Sicca transferred in from DeMatha Catholic High School and looks to improve a line that was already a strength in 2010. Lashley led the team with 91 tackles and two forced fumbles last year.
Makosy said about 100 players tried out for the team, a sure sign the program is on the rise.
2010 record: 5-5 county, 5-5 overall
Coach: Bruce Strunk, fourth season
Offensive starters: 4; Defensive starters: 4
Top players (offense): Seniors Ryan Wade (QB), Joey Bonavitacola (RB/LB) and Noah Johnson (OL/DL); juniors Brady Curley (RB), Michael Anderson (RB/LB) and Jack Friedman (OL/DL).
Top players (defense): Seniors Shamir Parham (MLB/FB), Chris Mukasa (DE), Steven Marsh (DB/WR), Konnor Ruggles (DB) and Nick Loiselle (DL); junior Andrew Young (DB).
Scouting report: Strunk returns a trio of electric runners who got some seasoning on varsity last year in Bonavitacola, Curley and Anderson, but his concern is over whether his inexperienced line can open holes for them.
"We have a lot of holes, so it all depends on how we can bring these guys up," Strunk said.
Johnson and Friedman should provide some stability in run blocking and pass protection, while Mukasa and Loiselle try to disrupt opposing offenses.
Senior Evan Jackson looks to be one of Wade's favorite targets in the passing game.
The Lions do bring back some experience on defense, especially in the backfield.
2010 record: 5-5 county, 5-5 overall
Coach: Pete Hughes, 16th season
Offensive starters: 6; Defensive starters: 6
Top players (offense): Seniors Allen Cross^ (RB/DB), John Pickett (OT/DT), Adam Mercado (G/DT) and Ben Tingen (TE/DE); junior Darius Fisk (RB); sophomore Eugene Swen (RB/S).
Top players (defense): Seniors Mike Evans (LB) and Elijah Harris (S/QB); juniors Eric Montag (LB), Kyle Jones (LB) and Brendan Thomas (DT); sophomore Rob Carter (DB/WR).
Scouting report: Long Reach was supposed to go places last year, but a slew of injuries knocked them out of contention. That hasn't dampened Hughes' optimism for this year, though. With six returning starters on each side of the ball, size and experience on the lines, and some trademark playmakers, the Lightning are poised to improve on last year's five wins.
Cross is back after leading the team with almost 1,000 yards from scrimmage last year, and Swen is ready to take the next step on offense and in the return game after playing varsity as a freshman. A throwback type player, Swen is also the team's kicker, punter and returner.
A pair of transfers — Carter, from Good Counsel, and Fisk, from Howard — should step right in to help the Lightning. Harris returns to the quarterback position after completing six passes last year in Long Reach's single wing offense.
"With our line, we're going to be looking to run the ball," Hughes said. "We're two or three deep at running back and they're interchangeable."
2010 record: 0-10 county, 0-10 overall
Coach: Tom Minard, first season
Offensive starters: 4; Defensive starters: 5
Top players (offense): Seniors Alex Costley (RB), B.J. Durham (WR) and Shep Stevens (QB); sophomore Byran Barney (WR).
Top players (defense): Seniors Eric Kim (SS), Ben Cho (DT) and Justin Burkett (MLB/C); juniors Lyle Fugate (LB/OL) and Ryan Austin (NG).
Scouting report: It may be another tough year for the Mustangs, as the team is still trying to get back to where it was athletically in 2008 when they finished 7-3.
"We're going to throw the ball a lot," Minard said. "We don't have the horses to move people (off the ball), we're still young … but the attitude's been really good."
Austin is the biggest player on the team at about 6-feet and 230 pounds.
Durham is a rare talent. Last year he caught 26 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown before moving to quarterback where he completed 20 of 32 pass attempts for 215 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 285 yards and a score. Costley also has experience running the ball after gaining 285 yards and a pair of touchdowns last year.
Fugate is the team's most polished player on defense and should help anchor an inexperienced offensive line.
2010 record: 1-9 county, 1-9 overall
Coach: Ross Hannon, fourth season
Offensive starters: 5; Defensive starters: 4
Top players (offense): Senior Tyler Anthony^ (WR); juniors Jackson Porter^ (RB) and Steve White (OL); sophomores Dillon Solo (SLOT) and Brendan Chavis (OL).
Top players (defense): Seniors Storm Wallpher (LB) and Eddie Humphrey (DL); juniors Nate Gainey (DB), Anthony Lewis (DL) and Malik Gilmore (DB/QB).
Scouting report: Like Marriotts Ridge, the Vikings return a youthful team after a season in which wins were hard to come by. But that is not to say that Mt. Hebron is without playmakers.
Gilmore completed 95 passes for more than 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. In only six games last year before a season ending injury, Anthony caught 25 passes for 400 yards and four touchdowns. Porter took on an increased role over the second half of the season and both players made the all-county second team. Porter will be relied on more in the running game this year, however.
Varsity newcomer Solo could contribute on offense as a slot receiver and special teams as a kick returner. Chavis has good size for a sophomore at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, but Humphrey, who played for the first time last year as a junior, is the team's giant at 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds.
Humphrey, along with Wallpher, should be able to prevent the Vikings from a similar fate to last year, when they allowed a league-worst 379 points.
2010 record: 4-6 county, 4-6 overall
Coach: Tom Browne, first season
Offensive starters: 4; Defensive starters: 2
Top players (offense): Seniors Kurtis Coleman (QB/SS), Dominic Drew (WR/FS) and Terrance Childs (RB/LB); junior Brandon Britton (RB).
Top players (defense): Seniors Carlos Coles (DL) and Tenard Childs (RB/LB); juniors Jimmy Riss (DE/C) and Evan Russell (CB/SLOT)
Scouting report: After winning four games last year — a comparative success — in a season which began with three straight wins, Oakland Mills graduated seven all-county players, including two-time selection Terrance Drew.
"They had some phenomenal athletes last year, but there are still some kids in the shadows that were just waiting for their opportunity," Browne said.
Drew's younger brother, Dominic, for example, is ready to show what he can do as a senior.
"Dominic is very talented. He kind of flew under the radar last year," Browne said.
Drew will be catching passes from Coleman, who won the quarterback job last year as a junior. Twin brothers Terrance and Tenard Childs will pace the running game and form the heart of the linebacking corps. Graduation hit the Scorpions' lines especially hard, but Coles and Riss should ease the transition. Britton and Russell are the team's top JV call-ups.
2010 record: 5-5 county, 5-5 overall
Coach: Bryan Cole, third season
Offensive starters: 5; Defensive starters: 5
Top players (offense): Seniors E.J. Montgomery* (QB), Kenny Frazier (RB/WR) and Joey Usher (WR/OLB); junior Robert Armstrong (RB/WR) .
Top players (defense): Seniors Justin Lee (DT), Alex Sims (ILB); junior Dario Burley (NG); sophomore Avion White (DE).
Scouting report: Montgomery, who has a college quarterback's frame at about 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, led the county with 97 completions, 1,509 yards and 14 TDs last year. He lost his two top receivers, Kyle Mitchell and Jimmy Thomas, to graduation, but still has some very nice targets in Frazier, Armstrong and Usher, who caught 19 passes for 237 yards.
"We've definitely got some weapons," Cole said. "And (E.J.'s) continuing to improve. He did lots of 7-on-7 (passing drills) over the summer and he's gotten bigger, stronger and even a little quicker."
The Gators should be able to move the ball up and down the field with ease as long as their line gives Montgomery time to pass, but they'll also have to keep opponents from scoring with a youthful defense, which graduated Player of the Year candidate Demetri Dennis (11 sacks).
Lee looks like one of the most improved players on the team, and White, a sophomore, is already around 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds.
2010 record: 9-1 county, 10-2 overall, 3A East finalist
Coach: Brian Van Deusen, 12th season
Offensive starters: 6; Defensive starters: 6
Top players (offense): Seniors Aaron Wells* (RB), Raamah Vaughn (QB/WR), Matt Greben (OT) and Karrs Johnson (G); junior Stephan Osong (RB).
Top players (defense): Seniors Randall Lawson (CB), Riley Davis* (LB), Davis Grove (LB), Alec Rau (DE) and Terrance Howell (LB).
Scouting report: Anyone who thinks that the Hawks are on the decline because of their two losses last season may be in for a surprise come November.
In terms of quality returners, River Hill is still right there with the class of the county. Wells, who leads all returners with more than 1,500 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, was an All-Metro selection last year and is a prime candidate for offensive Player of the Year this season. Vaughn, who played quarterback part-time last year, will look to improve the Hawks passing game that produced 571 yards in 2010.
Osong returned kickoffs last year, but was used sparingly on offense. He'll take on a bigger role in the Hawks' running game.
River Hill is especially impressive on defense, where tackling machine Davis (125 tackles, nine for loss) leads a big, experienced crew that has a strong shot to lead the league again in fewest points allowed.
Among the newcomers, look for juniors Justin Nestor (OL), Austin Altman (QB), Justin Arn (S) and Evan Griffin (RB), and sophomore Logan Kirby (OL/DL), to make a splash this year and next.
2010 record: 7-3 county, 11-3 overall, Class 3A state champion
Coach: Mike Harrison, third season
Offensive starters: 4; Defensive starters: 6
Top players (offense): Seniors Antoine Barnes (RB/OLB), Tom Klotz* (TE/DE), Darien Williams (OT/DT) and Chancy Waters (FB/LB).
Top players (defense): Seniors Jordan Mynatt^ (CB/WR), Anthony Miller^ (OLB/RB), Mike Smith (FS/FB) and Bashaar Peterson (DT/OG); junior Eric Handy (LB/OG).
Scouting report: The Wildecats certainly will have a tough road to defending their 2010 state title, especially after graduating half-a-dozen all-county players, including their top seven rushers, but no one on the field is calling this a rebuilding year.
"It just keeps cycling through, but we have a lot of seniors again this year, so we're pretty happy with where we are," Harrison said. "They saw what the guys last year were able to do, and they want to try to duplicate their success."
Harrison echoes the common refrain that graduation left him most vulnerable on the lines, but Wilde Lake always seems to play well in the trenches. Having the experience of Klotz, Williams and Peterson up front should help the cause.
A sophomore, Spencer Ampofo, has won the starting quarterback job, and so far has impressed his coaches. Harrison said he plans to spread the ball around a little more this year, but Barnes, the team's third-leading tackler last year, and Miller, the county's best punt returner in 2010, should see plenty of touches, with Mynatt stretching the field in the passing game. Barnes, Miller and Mynatt accounted for nine interceptions last year.
* 2010 first-team all-county; ^ 2010 second-team all-county