Polishing off The Baltimore Sun’s countdown of its Top 5 high school football teams is the No. 1 team, Gilman, the two-time defending Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference champion.
For the full preseason poll, check Friday’s Baltimore Sun and baltimoresun.com. The preview will also include players to watch and a look at the effects of reclassification on some of the area’s most successful public schools.
Coach: Biff Poggi
Last season: 9-2, ranked No. 1
Postseason: MIAA A Conference champion
Key Players: DE-TE Melvin Keihn, Sr.; CB Troy Vincent Jr., Sr.; QB Kai Locksley, Jr.; OT Chibuzo Ukandu, Sr.; SS Robert Branch, Jr.; DT Ellison Jordan, Soph.; RB Bijan Rhett, Sr.; RB Antonio Dupree, Soph.
Outlook: Before the Greyhounds kicked off their season Friday night against Good Counsel, it appeared they had a good chance to open the season 0-3 for the first time in Poggi’s career. The youngest team Poggi had ever coached nixed those thoughts with a thrilling, comeback 20-14 win over the Falcons.
A lot of players stepped into the limelight for the first time and came through on big plays against an opponent ranked No. 1 in Maryland and No. 19 in USA Today’s Super 25.
Sophomore linebacker Dorian Maddox had an interception that turned the game with 5:50 left. Freshman backup quarterback Kasim Hill threw the winning touchdown to sophomore wide receiver John Fitzgerald. Junior safety Alonzo Mayo made the final tackle just shy of the goal line against a Falcons run on fourth-and-goal from the 6-yard line as time ran out.
Those weren’t exactly household names around the local football community, but they could quickly become well known. Those young players and others will have plenty of opportunities after the Greyhounds graduated 15 starters, including co-Defensive Players of the Year Micah Kiser (Virginia) and Henry Poggi (Michigan) and All-Metro quarterback Shane Cockerille (Maryland).
While growing pains will continue, the Greyhounds showed that they could play tough despite a lot of mistakes and that they could mature as the game went on.
Their strength is in the lines and the defense. Gilman's offensive line averages almost 6 feet 4, 285 pounds and their experience will be critical in front of less experienced skill players.
Locksley, 6-4, 200 pounds and drawing lots of Football Bowl Subdivision interest, has all the assets to be another stellar Gilman quarterback. Against Good Counsel, he completed 9 of 14 passes for 123 yards and also ran 15 times for 106 yards and a touchdown. He was out of the game when Hill threw the touchdown pass because his shoe had come off, but he returned to run in the conversion on the game winner.
“He’s going to have to run the ball and he’s going to have to hold up,” Poggi said. “I think he’s very physically gifted. He’s got a scholarship offer for basketball from Tennessee. But he’s never been ‘the guy’ before, and now he’s going to have to be ‘the guy,’ and he can’t turn the ball over.”
Locksley will hand the ball off to running backs Dupree, 5-10, 215 pounds; Rhett, 5-10, 190 pounds; and Maddox, 5-11, 205 pounds. Dupree is the more powerful run-over-'em back, while Rhett and Maddox are fleet-footed speedy types.
Defensively, the Greyhounds boast their top returning players in two seniors, All-Metro defensive end Keihn and cornerback Troy Vincent Jr., the son of the former NFL player and a Penn State commitment. Branch, although a junior, is already a proven veteran at safety.
They will provide leadership for a defense that has replaced all of its linebackers with Maddox and seniors Chase Campbell, 6-3, 215 pounds; and Trevor Tomlinson, 6-3, 205 pounds.
“We’ve got to stop the run on defense. That’s what we have to do first,” Poggi said. “Offensively, we have to get first downs, and we can’t turn the ball over. New quarterback, you worry about that. We can’t be making bad decisions, and because we’re so new on our special teams, it’s really important that we get first downs.”
The Greyhounds, ranked third in the preseason Maryland High School Football Media State Poll behind Good Counsel and No. 2 DeMatha, head to College Park for their next game. They meet Manatee, from Bradenton, Fla., on Sunday at 7 p.m. in the Brothers In Arms Classic at Byrd Stadium. Manatee (0-0) is ranked No. 40 in USA Today’s "Next 25," while Gilman is No. 32.
After that, the Greyhounds travel to Rutgers University in New Jersey for a Sept. 8 game agaisnt Paramus Catholic (N.J.), ranked third in USA Today’s Super 25.
Gilman, which hasn't lost to an MIAA A Conference team since 2010, opens its conference schedule Oct. 4 at home against Mount St. Joseph.