Varsity football notebook: Forest Park making a name for itself on defense and eyeing playoff berth

Forest Park’s football team, like the rest of the school community, has been in transition for a couple of years, but that hasn’t affected the Foresters game.

They opened the season 4-0 and have the stingiest defense in the Baltimore area despite being in temporary accommodations for the second straight year while a new Forest Park High School is built. After shutting out their first three opponents, they gave up one touchdown in Friday’s 20-8 win over Carver. The Foresters have scored more than 16 times as many points as their opponents — 132.

Last fall, Forest Park played football under the Northwestern Wildcats banner after the two schools, sharing the Northwestern building, merged their athletic teams. Forest Park is still housed at the Northwestern building as construction continues on their new school, but now its teams once again sport the Foresters green and grey. Northwestern has closed and there is no longer a Wildcats program.

Blending the teams went smoothly, and the team finished 7-2 last year but did not make the playoffs. This season, coach Sean Markley’s squad is determined to change that.

“Our goal is to get in the playoffs and to win the conference [Baltimore City’s Division II],” Markley said. “We knew the conference would be tough. Lake Clifton would be tough and Lewis, who won the conference last year, is rolling again. That’s the showdown in two weeks [vs. Lewis Oct. 13 at 3:45 p.m. at Northwestern]. We know 7-2 wasn’t good enough to get us in, and we’re trying to go 9-0, which would solidify us in the playoffs.”

Senior Justin Leach, a running back and linebacker, has been the leader on both sides of the ball. The top tackler in every game, he has two interceptions. He also paces the Foresters in scoring, running for about 480 yards and seven touchdowns.

“He’s just an incredible kid,” Markley said. “He carries the team on his back.”

Also on the defensive side, brothers Danta and Davon Jones set up beside each other on the line while linebacker Damien Procter-El and cornerbacks Karon Fletcher and Gary Walker also have been key contributors.

“We just want to play with kind of a swag, an attitude and make them earn it, no big plays,” Markley said of his defense. “Being together from last year and coming into this year, they’re just relentless. They go hard at practice and it carries over to the game.”

Offensively, running back Dalon Harris, wide receiver Marcellius Garrison and transfer quarterback James Johnson join Leach in leading the way.

St. Paul’s tries out cutting-edge helmets

St. Paul's is one of the first high school programs in the country to be fitted with new VICIS Zero1 football helmets, the newest thing in helmet technology designed to reduce the risk of concussions.

Ten Crusaders began wearing the helmets Monday after being fitted by officials from the Seattle-based company.

“It has a different type of outer shell that’s softer and it compresses on impact. That allows the helmet to better absorb the shock,” said Crusaders coach Scott Ripley, who likened the new helmet to a car bumper in its design.

The VISCUS Zero1 was the top performing helmet in the NFL/NFLPA 2017 Helmet Laboratory Test that simulates impacts to the head that could potentially cause concussions, according to the NFL website.

Ripley said a Crusaders parent donated the helmets, which cost $1,500 each, and they will be worn by the skill players, who are the ones considered most at risk for significant impacts that could cause concussions.

Although the helmets look the same from the outside, Ripley said they fit tighter and are customized for each player. Each player was meticulously measured before the helmets were ordered and then a representative of the company made sure they were correctly fitted before the players began wearing them in practice. The company stresses on its website that although the helmet has been certified to meet National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) requirements, it does not claim to eliminate all concussions because many other factors play into the risks.

Ripley said the Crusaders haven’t had concussion problems for the past three years since they began teaching USA Football’s Heads Up tackling technique that stresses leading with the shoulder, but he’s all for anything that could further prevent brain injuries. Those injuries, including repeated concussions, might lead lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative condition that has been found in the brains of some deceased NFL players.

For high school teams, however, the cost of such cutting-edge technology can be prohibitive. Adding to the cost will be the reconditioning process, which the company’s website said will have to be done by VICIS rather than companies that recertify other football helmets.

“The issue is that it’s $1,500 [to buy] a helmet, so if you had 40 kids on the team, you’re paying $60,000 to outfit your whole team. Schools that don’t have the budget aren’t going to be able to do it,” Ripley said.

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