Sterling Jones sits on a concrete ledge above rusty metal bleachers at Edmondson-Westside High School watching the school band labor through a last rehearsal before tonight's football game. His feet dangle over the ledge, but it is hardly an image of relaxation. He nervously rocks back and forth.

The biggest game of his senior year is tonight, Saturday, Sept. 23, Edmondson versus City College under the lights at Polytechnic Institute's football stadium.

It is still hours away, and the waiting has become torture.

The Red Storm coaches have fired up the grill nearby, and the air smells of charcoal and lighter fluid. It's sunny, and as the wind kicks up, a quiet memory flits into Sterling's mind.

"This is the kind of day you want to fly a kite, yo," Sterling says to Kyle Jackson, his teammate and best friend.

"I ain't never learned how to, yo," says Kyle.

"Man, I loved it. I loved my kite," Sterling says. "It was a Spider-Man kite. I only flew it one time, but I still remember it."

"Yeah," Kyle says, grinning.

For the next several minutes, they don't say another word.

Six hours later, Sterling stands near midfield of Poly's Lumsden-Scott Stadium, screaming toward the sky, barking at anyone within earshot. He's on the balls of his feet, bouncing from side to side like a prizefighter, and he pounds his chest, punctuating each word with a mixture of rage, excitement and provocation.

"We coming, shorty!" Sterling, a safety, screams across the field. "Westside coming! We coming, shorty! Westside! Somebody better get me a knife and fork, 'cause I'm hungry, yo! I'm hungry!"

Minutes ago, coach Dante Jones stood before his team in the drab, colorless concrete locker room and asked for a moment of stillness, then a prayer. He locked eyes with each of his players, beseeching them to play with passion and pride.

"It's time to show City who run the city!" he yelled, then he sent his team charging out of the tunnel onto the field. From the Red Storm fans in the metal bleachers -- many waving signs and wearing Edmondson's red and white colors -- came a swelling roar.

Now the team gathers at midfield, shoulder to shoulder. Kyle's eyes are slits, and the linebacker's face is frozen with malice. Linemen Dajuan "Boo Boo" Smith and Jerome Baskerville smash each other's shoulder pads, banging their helmets together. Cornerback Dionta Cox shakes his head, waving his finger, vowing not to surrender a catch tonight.

Tariq Jones, Edmondson's usually reserved running back, has worked himself into such a frenzy that tears run down his face and spill onto his crimson jersey.

Sterling glares across the field at City's players, in their white jerseys and shiny black helmets. For 10 months he has been waiting for this, ever since City beat Edmondson, 8-0, in the second-to-last game of the dismal 2005 season. He wants payback.

City wins the coin flip and chooses to receive.

At 6:58 p.m. the right foot of Edmondson kicker Keon Fisher strikes the ball, booming it high into the air and deep into the end zone for a touchback.

The waiting is over. No more uneven practices or tedious study halls. No essays to write on Beowulf, no more dances or funerals to attend, no more film to watch. In 48 minutes of football, the Red Storm players will learn whether they are what they believe: the best in Baltimore.