It was the last drill of Wilde Lake's first football practice Saturday, and the Wildecats were working on punts. Just as senior cornerback Jordan Mynatt stepped up to receive the next one, coach Michael Harrison blew the whistle, signaling the end of practice.
"One more!" Mynatt pleaded.
Harrison relented, and the entire team watched as Mynatt positioned himself under a booming punt.
Mynatt tried to trap the ball against his chest, but he wasn't wearing a shirt, and the ball popped loose. The drop prompted hooting and hollering from Mynatt's teammates, along with more than a few pushups for the all-Howard County cornerback.
Mynatt and his teammates better get used to the pressure that comes with all eyes being on them as Wilde Lake gears up to defend its 2010 Class 3A state title.
"The kids certainly know that winning the first time is much easier than it is trying to get back the second time," said Harrison, last year's All-Metro Coach of the Year. "I really think the Xs and Os of football, the technique of football, all of that will wind up falling into place. It's just sort of that intangible leadership on the field … that's what you gotta find."
Entering his third season as head coach, Harrison will need to replace 17 graduates, including a quartet of standouts who powered his Wing-T offense over the past two years. Quarterback Joe Kelly (who will try to walk onto West Virginia's team this fall) and running backs Khalil Viera, Alvin Harris and E.J. Gilman accounted for 80 percent of the Wildecats' yards on the ground last year.
Harrison said it was too early to name Kelly's replacement, but two of the frontrunners are senior Antoine Barnes and sophomore Spencer Ampofo. As is the customary in the Wing-T, Wilde Lake will use a stable of running backs led by seniors Kenzie Evans, Michael Powell and Anthony Miller.
Barnes and Miller, both also linebackers, join Mynatt as stalwarts in Wilde Lake's defense. While Mynatt was initially called on as a replacement last year after Brian Anderson tore a ligament in his knee in the second game, he finished the season as the county leader with four interceptions.
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound cornerback stepped up in the postseason, proving crucial in the Wildecats upset of undefeated Damascus in the 3A semifinals. Mynatt's lockdown defense on Damascus' heralded receiving corps put pressure on quarterback Connor Frazier, and after throwing just one interception all year, Frazier tossed two against Wilde Lake.
Mynatt — who has received interest from North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Old Dominion, James Madison and Towson — said last year's title run gave him a glimpse of what the Wildecats will need to do this year to make it back to M&T Stadium.
"We always went hard during every play, in practice and in games," he said. "You can't take any plays off, whether you're playing a good team or a bad team, because you're going to lose your momentum."
For now, Harrison is focused on replacing all the talent and leadership he lost to graduation. Only after he gets a better feel for his new-look Wildecats will he turn his attention to making history.
"No 3A champion has repeated in the state of Maryland since 1994 or some ungodly number," Harrison said. "So, I don't know, maybe we'll be it or maybe we won't. The bottom line is, you get a 10 game regularly season, hopefully we're good enough to qualify for the playoffs, and you never know where the chips are going to fall at that point."