Gilman football players are used to opening their season with a challenging nonleague schedule, but this year, they're starting in "the Bermuda triangle."
The Greyhounds, last year's Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference champions, travel to meet Ohio powerhouse Archbishop Moeller in Cincinnati on Sunday night for the nationally-televised ESPN High School Football Kickoff. After that, they play at Good Counsel on Aug. 31 and face Don Bosco Prep, from New Jersey, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Sept. 8.
The recruiting web site Scout.com labeled that schedule "the Bermuda triangle," and Gilman coach Biff Poggi said, "They're probably right."
While the Greyhounds are ranked No. 16 in USA Today's preseason Super 25, Good Counsel is No. 9 and Moeller is No. 14. Don Bosco isn't ranked but finished last season at No. 1.
"That's the toughest early season schedule in the country," Tom Lemming, recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network, said. "[Gilman] should be No. 1 in the country if they beat those three teams."
The Greyhounds are taking it one angle at a time.
ESPN officials set up the Moeller game and when the call came to go out to the biggest football showcase in the country, the 15th annual Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown in Cincinnati, Poggi didn't hesitate.
"The kids wanted to do it," Poggi said. "The kids have been playing the highest level of national competition at Gilman for 10 years now. We got called about the game and we were not going to say no."
The Greyhounds will face a Crusaders team that returns a load of talented players, including 13 starters. Gilman brings a lot of guys back, too, but the Greyhounds don't have the go-to player they relied on the last few seasons.
They will have to do things more by committee, but they certainly have the personnel.
"We don't have a Darius [Jennings] or a Cyrus [Jones]," Poggi said, "but what we do have is probably the most really good players we've ever had on the team or very close to it, so we're going to be a different team but we're going to be a very good one."
Nonetheless, Poggi says his team may be a bigger underdog against the Crusaders than ever before. Most analysts give Moeller the advantage in a close contest that features two stellar running games, but Lemming said he gives the slightest edge to the Greyhounds although playing such a tough game on the road is always a challenge.
"I would say Gilman has more talent, but it will be a fairly even match," Lemming said. "It's going to be one of the best defenses in the country trying to stop one of the best offenses. If Gilman can stop the run, that's going to put Moeller on the defensive. Gilman has one of the best linebacking corps in the country."
The Greyhounds return most of their strength on defense with seven key players, including Michigan-bound tackle Henry Poggi, Virginia-bound linebacker Micah Kiser and senior linebacker Miles Norris.
Despite not returning a go-to guy on offense, the Greyhounds still have a steady running game and Maryland-bound quarterback Shane Cockerille likely will do more passing.
Crusaders coach John Rodenberg said he's most concerned about Gilman's power offense.
"We're putting in a new defense this year and Gilman's power game is good," Rodenberg said. "It's led by the quarterback and they get great blocking out of their tight end Poggi and what worries me is their wide receiver No. 5 [sophomore Kai Locksley]. He's going to be a major Division I recruit. So they hit you with this power run, power run and then they come back with the jailbreak screen or throw the fake to No. 5. He's a special kid."
Biff Poggi is most concerned with the size of Moeller's offensive line and with their hurry-up offense.
"They're just massive and they're really good," Poggi said of a line with players from 265 to 330 pounds. "They play no huddle, up tempo, so they snap the ball probably every 15-20 seconds … and they want to pound you. They play really fast and [the players] play one way. We've got five guys playing two ways, so conditioning will be a big part of it and we can't get too far behind. We've got to keep it close. If we keep it close, we'll have a chance at the end."
Gilman vs. Archbishop Moeller (Ohio)
What: ESPN High School Football Kickoff
Where: Kings High School in Cincinnati
When: Sunday, 7 p.m.
USA Today national rankings: No. 16 Gilman; No. 14 Moeller
Last season: Gilman (10-1, MIAA A Conference champion); Moeller (9-4; Ohio state Division I regional finalist)
Coaches: Biff Poggi, Gilman; John Rodenberg, Moeller
Gilman: Henry Poggi, Sr., DT-TE (Michigan); Micah Kiser, Sr., LB-TE (Virginia); Shane Cockerille, Sr., QB (Maryland); Miles Norris, Sr., LB-RB; Melvin Keihn, Jr., DE-TE.
Moeller: Shane Jones, Sr., LB (Michigan State); Alex Gall, Sr., OT (Miami, Fla.); Spencer Iacavone, Sr., QB; Keith Watkins, Sr., RB-DB (Northwestern).