Loyola Blakefield football coach Brant Hall has seen good and bad days in his four seasons coaching the Dons. He just hopes the days of consecutive 3-8 campaigns are behind his team.
Hall is counting on a defense that gave up 35 points in a season-opening loss to John Carroll Aug. 28. Still, he believes the Dons' 4-2-5 defense — which returns eight starters — could help Loyola move up in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference standings.
"We got better defensively last season as the year wore on," said Hall, whose team is at Boys' Latin on Friday. "We are going to be more aggressive this year. We have more experience and better athletes. They definitely have the potential to be the best defense we have seen since I have been here."
The secondary appears to be the strength, with junior safety Jason Smith (5 feet 11, 170 pounds), junior cornerback Kenny Lewis (6-2, 170), senior safety Rick Nickel (5-11, 170) and safety/outside linebacker Mike Bell (5-11, 160) returning.
Senior linebackers Darren Seward (6-2, 230) and Malik Wilson (5-11, 205) could become big-play performers while defensive tackle Trey Thomas (5-11, 240) and defensive end Dom Clark (6-4, 225) anchor the line.
"We had a lot of varsity guys last year that were playing varsity football for he first time," Hall said. "So having a year of experience under their belt and understanding what we do defensively will help us this year."
Senior quarterback Alex Caltrider (6-1, 215) started the opener, but sophomore Will Koras (5-10, 170) replaced him in the second half and threw two touchdowns passes. Smith is also an option.
Hall isn't sure Caltrider will play against Boys' Latin because of elbow and shoulder injuries. The coach, however, likes Caltrider's potential to run the pro-style offense.
"He is a very tough player and a good athlete," said Hall, a former standout quarterback for the Dons. "He loves to be physical, and he is a great runner. He won't back down from anybody, and he will lower the shoulder on guys. He is working to become a better passer."
Loyola's offense will rely on a group of relatively inexperienced players to challenge rival defenses.
Senior tackle Brian McShalley (6-2, 215), junior guard Drew Barker (6-3, 260), senior guard Patrick Brow (6-1, 240) and junior center Kevin Chesebrough (6-0, 215) will line up as new starters while senior tackle and returning starter Levone Ward (6-1, 220) is the line's linchpin.
They will be blocking for junior tailback Azende Smith (5-9, 185) and junior fullback Trevor Henigan (6-1, 215).
"I am really optimistic about how good of a football team we can be," Hall said. "We have some really good athletes and some kids who put in a lot of work over the summer and who want to change our program. We can have a winning season this year."