With high school football season underway for the private schools and the public schools set to kick off on Sept. 6, The Baltimore Sun is rolling out its Top 5 teams leading up to the full preview on Friday. This morning, it’s No. 4.
Throughout the week, The Sun will count down the top five teams leading up to No. 1 on Thursday. The entire Top 15 poll along with players to watch will be published Friday in The Baltimore Sun and on baltimoresun.com.
For a look at No. 5 Old Mill, click here.
Coach: Rich Holzer
Last season: 10-3, No. 5
Postseason: 4A state semifinalist
Key Players: DE Niquekko Cook, Sr.; QB Marcus Smith, Sr.; RB Kyle Evans, Sr.; OL Jake Hawk, Sr.; Robert Hogan, LB, Sr.; Travis Chidebe, SR-RB, Jr.; Devontae Dunn, WR-FS, Sr.; LB Daniel Gilbert, Sr.
Outlook: Last fall, the Mustangs reached the state semifinals for the first time since 2001 by avenging regular-season losses to top Anne Arundel County rivals Arundel and Old Mill, the 2011 state champion, in the regional playoffs. In dethroning the Patriots, Smith ran for 65 of his 144 yards on the game's final drive and scored the winning touchdown with 22 seconds to go for a 28-21 victory.
The momentum did not carry over to the state semifinals, where the Mustangs fell to eventual champion Wise, 40-0, but Holzer expects some of that momentum to carry over into this season. With five offensive starters and seven defensive starters back, it should.
“I think they definitely do have some momentum going, because Meade hadn’t beaten Old Mill and Arundel in so long it kind of got the monkey off their back, so to speak," Holzer said. "They’re feeling pretty confident, but we’re also driving them pretty hard to keep them hungry and focused.”
As with any big school, the turnover was significant with 28 players graduating, but a lot of players return too, led by Cook, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound veteran who has been invited to the NUC All-American Game in December, and Smith, who ran for more than 800 yards and six touchdowns and threw for over 830 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Smith, 6-1, 175 pounds, is getting college looks as a slot receiver, Holzer said, but he also has a good arm, so the Mustangs will continue to take advantage both of his speed and of his passing ability.
They also bring back a 1,000-yard rusher in Evans, 5-10, 180 pounds, and add Chidebe, a 5-10, 185-pound transfer from Archbishop Spalding.
“I think it’s about establishing our running game on offense,” Holzer said. “We’ve got two running backs who are both sub-4.5 [40-yard dash] guys that are tough. Kyle can get out in the open field and make people miss like I’ve never seen in a kid playing for me, and Chidebe, who was almost an All-America wrestler as a sophomore -- talk about a tough nut -- even with his size, he put his head down on the goal line [in Saturday’s scrimmage] and took out two Westlake kids on his way to the end zone.”
The Mustangs also picked up several transfers, some from military families arriving at Fort Meade. Dunn should play a key role in helping fill one of the defensive holes left by graduation. Stepping in at free safety, he’ll bolster a secondary that lost a Division I-caliber cornerback and free safety.
Having five veteran linebackers will certainly help as Hogan, Gilbert, junior Jamarkeus Hammond, senior Chris Harris and senior Chris Motz all return. Two of three defensive linemen are also back – Cook, senior defensive end Kyle Marshall and junior nose guard James Williams.
“On defense, it’s going to be, with the linebackers and the linemen returning, shutting down the opposing team’s running game and making it one dimensional,” Holzer said.
As usual, the Mustangs will spend the season jockeying for position in the regional standings where the 4A East region includes the top Anne Arundel County teams – Old Mill, Arundel, South River, Broadneck and Severna Park as well as North Point. It’s possible that an 8-2 record might not be good enough to qualify for the four-team regional playoffs. Meade finished the regular-season 8-2 last year and was the fourth seed.
The Mustangs open the season at home against Glen Burnie on Sept. 6. Their next home game is the rematch with Old Mill on Sept. 20.