Things will be very different for Dunbar football coach Lawrence Smith next season.

Gone from the Poets' 1A state title team are eight Division I-bound players, including record-shattering running back Tavon Austin, a West Virginia signee.


Filling the void for Dunbar's vaunted 2009 class will be just four returning seniors. But despite the Poets' youth, Smith's optimistic about next fall.

"We have some young guys that want to step up and play," Smith said. "Our JV was 11-0 last year ... and we've got a great class of kids coming in. We feel at Dunbar that we don't rebuild; we reload."

Nevada-Las Vegas has already offered two members of Dunbar's 2010 class: running back/linebacker Nathan Ayers and offensive tackle/defensive end Devin Clark.

Dunbar's Smith ready to reload

Ayers, who has also been offered a scholarship by Toledo, spent his first two years of high school at City. As a junior, the 5-foot-9, 190-pounder made his mark at fullback, blocking for Austin and Davon Muse, a Central Michigan recruit. This season Ayers, who runs a 4.5 40, will be Dunbar's featured back.

"He basically [got carries] ... after we took Tavon and Davon out of the game," Smith said. "He didn't really have a lot of big runs in the highlight film. But he's a very physically strong kid. They really liked his style and, like I said, he's a good kid. He's a very coachable kid."

Clark has started every game for the Poets since his freshman year. The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder, who runs a 4.7 40, played center during his first two years of high school before moving to right tackle as a junior.

Smith said the biggest issue for Clark is figuring out which side of the ball he'll play on in college. UNLV likes him on the defensive line. The offer from the Rebels was big considering it came from assistant coach Andre Patterson. Before coming to Las Vegas in 2008, Patterson spent 10 seasons in the NFL, coaching the defensive line for the New England Patriots (1997), Minnesota Vikings (1998-99), Dallas Cowboys (2000-02), Cleveland Browns (2003-04) and Denver Broncos (2005-06). Patterson recruited Dunbar cornerback Courtney Bridget to UNLV last year.

"[Patterson] told me last year that when he came in during the early signing period he was going to offer Devin," Smith said. "He's been around the NFL and he wanted to coach Devin, and that's why the early offer came so fast."

In the past, most Dunbar players have taken a deliberate approach to recruiting. Smith expects Ayers and Clark to do the same.

"The key thing with my guys is ... take your time and see what's out there," Smith said. "I was a little upset with the decommit thing that happened with Horace [Miller] (who switched to Louisville from UNLV). I don't want to get in a habit with that. That type of thing will come back on you. So when you commit to somebody, you're off the market. Take your time and be sure that's where you want to go for the next four years."

Smith said Ayers and Clark will need to lead the way for the Poets if they expect to win their fourth straight state championship.

"Are we going to be scoring 50 points a game? Probably not," Smith said. "But I really feel this team is going to be able to make a run again. ... Teams will be gunning for them. But they tell me they're up for the challenge."

Notes: Senior quarterback Jonathan Perry had offers from Morgan State and Liberty, but Smith said he decided to go the junior college route in hopes of generating more Division I interest. Perry's considering schools in California, Kansas, Texas and Arizona. ... Linebacker Tevin Brown will attend prep school next year at North Carolina Tech in Charlotte. Brown, a Baltimore Sun second-team All-Metro selection, received interest from West Virginia, Akron, Morgan State, James Madison, Delaware State and several others.

Baltimore Sun photo of Lawrence Smith by Kim Hairston / Dec. 8, 2007