Lansdowne varsity head coach Shaun Murphy addresses his team during a pre-season practice. Murphy's Vikings went 6-4 last season.
Lansdowne varsity head coach Shaun Murphy addresses his team during a pre-season practice. Murphy's Vikings went 6-4 last season. (Nicole Munchel for the Baltimore/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

It would not be surprising if Lansdowne High head coach Shaun Murphy was not highly optimistic about the upcoming football season after the Vikings graduated 17 seniors from last year’s roster.

But, the coach, whose squad’s 6-4 record in 2018 was the school’s best in nearly 20 years, likes the way his returning players have blended with new talent.

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With the expanded playoff field, from four to eight teams in each region qualifying for the postseason, he is hoping his 2019 squad can make history.

“As long as we have a decent season, we could make the playoffs for the first time in the school’s history,” said Murphy, whose squad plays in a region with 12 teams.

Replacing the production of graduated seniors Jerald Hurt (McDaniel College) and Marcus Sessoms (Keystone College) will be a tough task.

Hurt gained over 1,000 all-purpose yards last year and over 3,200 in his career. He scored 42 touchdowns in his final two seasons, including 22 last year.

“He (Hurt) was literally unstoppable for us,” Murphy said.

This year’s offense will start with junior quarterback Brandon Burnopp (6-feet, 165).

“He was always really close with Jerald so he is trying to take on that leadership role this year,” Murphy said.

Sophomore Taheed Houston (5-10, 210) and junior Jarrel Simpkins (5-11, 200) will try and fill the running shoes vacated by Hurt.

Simpkins was Hurt’s understudy last season and Houston had a solid season a JV squad that finished 4-6..

“They are going to try and shoulder the running back duties this year,” Murphy said.

Sophomore fullback Robert Higgs (5-10, 200), who moved up to varsity during the season last fall, joins the backfield.

“He ended up coming up and helped us beat Pikesville and he got an extra-point score against Loch Raven,” Murphy said.

At wide receiver, junior Josh Johnson (6-2, 180) returns as starter.

“He got significant time as a sophomore and he looks stronger and a lot more aggressive this year,” Murphy said.

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Senior Michael Corsey (6-2, 205) may see time at tight end as well as tackle.

“We were thin on the line so he is going to be flip-flopping between tackle and tight end this year,” Murphy noted.

Murphy has some candidates to start the season on the line.

Senior veteran Ryan Rent (6-0, 220) moves from guard to center this season, junior Mouthiah Nidiaye (6-0, 210) starts at tackle with junior Damian Stevens (6-0, 220) manning a guard slot, along with sophomore Lorenzo Tippins (6-2, 220).

Murphy enjoyed a strong first impression at a recent jamboree that included Patapsco, Harford Tech and North County.

“They are tough,” Murphy said. “We held our own against teams with a lot greater numbers than us and a lot bigger lines, so I definitely hope it works out.”

One wild card on the offense is Wanye Woodson (5-10, 185), a transfer from Dunbar.

“He’s our utility guy, so he can go pretty much at any skill position,” Murphy said. “He’s just a great kid, great hands, very, very fast, just a workhorse, we are really excited about him.”

Junior Citadel Anyaoha has varsity experience and could fill a similar role as Woodson.

“He’s kind of an all-purpose skill-guy, wide receiver, defensive back, safety,” Murphy said.

Another prospect the head coach is excited about is junior Idriss Zoutina, who switched from soccer to become the team’s full-time kicker.

“He is just a kicker and he’s doing amazing so far.” Murphy said.

Among the reserves on the 21-man squad hoping to make an impact are first-year senior players Timothy Bass (RB/OLB) and David Trang (OL/DL), juniors Michael Burnett (WR/DB), Gavin Kolb (QB/DB), Tyler Shiflett (OL/OLB), Delonte Thompson (WR, CB) and sophomores Trevor Ellis (WR/DB) and Richard Gross (WR/DB).

One thing that has impressed the coach throughout pre-season is the team’s attitude.

“They are very excited to finally get the program over that hurdle of realizing that we can do it and that was the mentality that we went forward with after the 3-7 season in Jerald’s junior year,” Murphy said. “To be able to go and have the mentality that we can win, that we will win and that would be expectation, rather than it being a surprise, that was huge for us.”

Lansdowne opens the regular season at Sparrows Point on Sept. 6 at 6 p.m. The Vikings open the home season on Sept. 13 against Patapsco at 6 p.m. with the homecoming game against Chesapeake on Sept. 20 at 6 p.m.

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