We’re almost there in counting down to the No. 1 in The Baltimore Sun's preseason high school football Top 5. We’ve reached No. 2 with one of the perennially best public school teams -- River Hill.
Tomorrow, we’ll reveal our No. 1. On Friday, in The Baltimore Sun and on baltimoresun.com, we will publish the entire preseason football poll, as well as players to watch and a look at the ramifications of reclassification for some of the area’s most successful public schools.
2. River Hill
Coach: Brian Van Deusen
Last season: 14-0, No. 2
Postseason: Class 3A state champion
Key Players: TE-LB Cory Daniel, Sr.; OL-DL Logan Kirby, Sr.; RB-CB Chris Galloway, Sr.; OL-DE Anthony Currao, Sr.; QB Drew Pritchard, Sr.; OL-LB Sam Kolodrubetz, Sr.; FB-LB Cyrus Vaughn, Sr.; FB-LB Brian Kirby, Jr.
Outlook: After graduating 17 seniors, the Hawks would seem to be in for a rebuilding year. History says otherwise.
The Hawks suffered similar losses after winning the state championship in 2011 and not only went on to repeat as champs, but they also finished undefeated.
“When you run a program like ours, a lot of kids have to work their way up and don’t start until their senior year,” Van Deusen said. “If you look back at the year before, we lost four kids that went D-I and a couple other kids. Those juniors, the next year, have to come up and take their step that senior year. Our quarterback last year [Austin Altman] hardly took any snaps as a junior and he was County Player of the Year.”
With a consistently strong junior varsity squad, the Hawks just keep feeding players into the varsity program and that has added up to 10 straight playoff appearances and four state championships in the past six years. River Hill also has the area’s longest active winning streak at 24 games.
This fall, the Hawks aim to become only the sixth football program in state tournament history to win three titles in a row. Dunbar and Seneca Valley have each done that twice, and Wilde Lake and Springbrook, once. Urbana holds the record with four straight titles between 1998 and 2001.
The Hawks return four players on each side of the ball, and most of them return on the line.
“We basically have four guys on the line that had a lot of experience, so up front, we’re looking real good,” Van Deusen said. “We’re bigger than last year. We’ve got two tackles coming up from the JV, and they’re both about 265.”
Those big newcomers, 6-foot-3 juniors Robert Haid and Tyler Smith, join veterans Logan Kirby (5-11, 215 pounds), Daniel (6-2, 250) and Currao (5-11, 210) on the offensive line.
Pritchard, 6-1, 200 pounds, will take over at quarterback with a handful of potential targets, including Daniel. The Hawks graduated all of their top running backs, but Galloway, who Van Deusen said is faster than any of last year’s running backs, will step into one of those roles.
On defense, the line may be one of the best Hawks groups ever, Van Deusen said, with two returning starters. Two linebackers return, but the others have experience and there are promising youngsters to join the only returning player in the secondary, cornerback Galloway.
Also back is senior kicker Alex Potocko, who had 79 extra points last season and can put a lot of kickoffs in the end zone.
Van Deusen said the key to the season is mostly the development of the new skill position players.
“If those guys make gains and improve each week, I think we’re going to be a big-play offense again,” Van Deusen said. “Last year, we scored 42 points a game and that’s kind of tough. I think we had 81 touchdowns, but with our line, if we can be a ball-control offense and pound the ball a little bit more, we might not throw the ball as much as last year. But we do have some nice targets out there.”
The Hawks open the season at Glenelg on Sept. 6. The regular-season rivalry with neighboring Atholton will resume on Sept. 20. Because of a rotating county schedule, the two did not meet last season until the playoffs, with River Hill taking a 35-17 regional championship victory.