Second-year coach Josh Rutter turned Francis Scott Key's varsity football program around this year. The Eagles' 6-3 record was the best the school has had in years.
Their future appears bright.
Meanwhile, his dad John, who coaches the Mountain Valley League's Junior Eagles 14-under team, wants to keep it that way. He helped turn the junior Eagles around, too. And most of his players will move on to help the Key football program next fall.
His varsity, which has also struggled in recent years, went 7-2 during the MVFL regular season before losing in the first round of the playoffs.
The two teams have obviously followed similar courses.The Eagles were a combined 3-17 in 2015-16 while the Junior Eagles were 4-15. But this year, both teams turned things around.
Most of the Junior Eagles' core from the previous two years came back this season, and John Rutter went out and recruited five or six new players to help out. He was particularly interested in youngsters with size.
John Rutter credits his players' success to maturity and buying in to what their coaches were trying to tell them. Most of his assistant coaches were connected with the high school football team as players.
Corey Hood and Adam Roop were fairly recent graduates who once played for the Eagles. Kane Richardson and Matt Diehl are football team members now. Tony Leggieri is Rutter's "assistant head coach" as John puts it, and Tyler Harris also helps out.
The younger assistant coaches, with their football background, quickly established a positive relationship with the youth players. Fairly close to them in age and with their own football experience to draw from, they could easily communicate with the youngsters. That of course helped John Rutter get his message across to them.
It also encouraged the kids to put forth their best effort in practice to both learn the team's offensive and defensive systems and develop their own skills.
After a 16-14 loss to Oakdale, the Junior Eagles blanked their final two opponents, Frederick and Catoctin. These kids shut out five of the last six teams they played this season, six in all.
Their 7-2 record tied them with Brunswick and Mount Airy for first place in the league's Mountain Division. They yielded only 55 points for the year, the lowest among the 16 teams in the Mountain Valley League's Varsity Division.
Rutter thinks the most important thing that made this year's group different from last was their attitude.
"Their confidence improved. They'd had a losing tradition for many years,” he said. “This year we turned a corner and said, 'we're good.’ The kids just answered the call.”
The Junior Eagles scored 171 points in their nine games, third-highest in the Mountain Division.
"We didn't have a weak position at all on either defense or offense," Rutter said.
As the season ended, the team began looking at the playoffs.Their foe would be 8-1 Urbana, which was second seed in the Valley Division after finishing in a three-way first place tie of its own with Spring Mills and Linganore.
"Coming into the playoffs, I thought we had a chance. I told the kids not to change a thing and that they should play the way they had all season," Rutter said.
Unfortunately, they didn't play well enough. Urbana broke a 6-6 tie with a touchdown near the end of the first half. Late in the game in clinched things with another touchdown to win 22-6.
"They were a little bit down, and there were some tears,” Rutter said. “I told them not to put their heads down, and I said they were winners.”