Former San Francisco 49ers defensive back Ronnie Lott earned his reputation as the hardest hitting player in the National Football League during his Super Bowl-winning seasons in the 1980s and 90s.
“He’s like a middle linebacker playing safety,” former Cowboys coach Tom Landry is quoted as saying about Lott in the 14-year-player’s Hall of Fame biography. “He’s devastating. He may dominate the secondary better than anyone I’ve seen.”
Lott has been emulated by players of all ages ever since. And while the focus on hard hits in the sport has been under the microscope in recent years, a well-timed blow is still one of the most impactful plays in a game that has been consistently shifting in favor of the offense.
On Friday nights in Howard County over the last four years, River Hill defensive back Beau Brade has earned a similar status. The four-year varsity starter who was an All-County selection each year for the Hawks was entrenched in the league long enough that opponents always knew to keep one eye focused on the 6-foot, 200-pound player with 4.6 speed.
“I compare him to Ronnie Lott back in the day, you know, a bigger, stronger safety that brings it,” said River Hill head coach Brian Van Deusen said. “Beau’s always had great football instincts, and he’s always been a hitter. He’s played the safety position like a linebacker for us, and it’s made us stronger as a defense because there’s not many people getting by Beau.”
“When the running back or receiver is worrying about the hit, they’re not worrying about holding on to the ball or catching the ball,” Brade said. “They’re scared of that player coming up and hitting them and thinking about that. I’m always trying to, like my dad says, break the will of the other team.”
Brade, who was a second-team All-County selection as a freshman and a first team pick as a sophomore and junior, is finally getting his due as the best defensive player in the league. He is the 2019 Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Defensive Player of the Year.
“I was super happy,” Brade said of Van Deusen telling him about the honor. “I had to, of course, thank my teammates and my coaches because it wouldn’t be able to happen without them. It feels more like a team award instead of individual because I can’t do what I do without the linemen or linebackers or corners doing their job, so I’m happy for the team and myself.”
Van Deusen said Brade, who received more than 15 Division-I offers and is committed to University of Maryland, will go down as one of the best defensive players in school history alongside former players of the year Kevin Johnson (2009) and Zach Martin (2007).
Brade totaled at least 107 tackles in each of his four seasons — 109 as a freshman, 108 as a sophomore, 126 as a junior and 107 as a senior — to finish with 450 for his career, which is the second-most in Howard County history, trailing only Martin (476). Brade’s 184 assisted tackles are a school record.
He also ended up with 13 tackles for loss, six interceptions, three blocked kicks, seven forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries, while also contributing heavily on offense over the last two seasons. For his career, he had 169 carries for 1,145 yards and eight scores and 19 receptions for 232 yards and three more touchdowns.
This year, Brade finished seventh in the league in rushing yards with 652 to go with five touchdowns on 89 carries. When he wasn’t carrying the ball, Anthony Behrmann or Zach Igwebe were often bursting through holes that Brade created. Van Deusen called him the best blocker on the team.
“We haven’t had many four-year guys like Beau. We didn’t even bring up (Michael) Campanaro or even Kevin (Johnson), two NFL guys, their freshman year,” Van Deusen said. “Beau’s been the best four-year guy we’ve ever had, and even as a freshman, he’s playing right away and making an impact right away.”
Brade first caught the eye of the River Hill coaching staff as a seventh grader at the River Hill football booster camp. He had everything you’d want in a safety — the size, speed and instincts to find the ball — which also meant he was being courted by private schools.
Brade and his father met with Van Deusen before making a decision on which school to attend. Ultimately, the safety was convinced he could accomplish everything he wanted at his local high school.
“This has been so great, definitely,” Brade said. “I feel like this is the best football program in the county and the best coaches in the county with all their experience they have. I think that they’ve done a tremendous job.”
Brade’s standing as a hard hitter started early in his career. In his fourth game as a freshman, River Hill and Reservoir went to overtime tied at 20. Gators All-County running back Kyle Fehr broke through the line of scrimmage and headed for the end zone when Brade sprinted to his right and stonewalled him. Fehr needed a few extra seconds to get up.
“That’s when I think I got that reputation,” Brade said.
Anthony Behrmann (12 carries for 135 yards) and junior Zach Igwebe (17 carries for 116 yards) combined for six total touchdowns to lead River Hill past Oakland Mills in Columbia on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019.
Van Deusen said Brade would often set the tone with a big hit early in games.
“Other teams see that. They see Beau is playing there and he’s flying around the field and he’s hitting people,” Van Deusen said. “I think that has an impact on teams when they’re watching tape, and we saw several times running backs get the ball and they get toward that hole and they start peaking right away like, ‘Where’s Beau at?’ They know he’s going to be flying down that alley and coming to make a big hit. He’s a very physical player and his highlight tape is just amazing with some of the big hits. That just sets the tone for the whole defense, and our other guys feed off of that.”
Brade said he chose Maryland, where he will enroll in January, over Virginia Tech and Michigan because it “really feels like a family” with head coach Mike Locksley there, and he said it helped that the university has a “great” business school with close access to potential internships in Washington D.C. and Baltimore.
On the field, Van Deusen believes Brade has a bright future and the potential to play on Sundays because of his intelligence and how much he improves each year. His ability to drop back in coverage, combined with his awareness and the angles he takes to the ball, will set him up for immediate success, Van Deusen said. He believes Brade is best suited for a strong safety/outside linebacker hybrid role as a player who can come up and play in the box.
“Beau is always around the ball and I think the big thing is just the improvement in the coverage, which he’s going to be counted on to do at Maryland,” Van Deusen said. “He’s also a great character kid and has great leadership skills. … With his size and the way he plays, I think he can have an impact right away. He’s a kid that’s already got that build, you know, put on a few more pounds, get a little stronger, he’s a kid that can help out special teams and defense right away.
“He’s a guy that down the road has that potential to play on Sundays like Campanaro and Kevin Johnson.”
Also named to first-team All-County — Defense:
Jack Baxter, Marriotts Ridge, junior.
Baxter took a huge leap this fall and turned into one of the county’s best linemen. He had his best game of the season against Wilde Lake when he registered 11 tackles, including three for loss, and two sacks.
“It was as dominant a performance we had up front all year,” Mustangs coach Marcus Lewis said.
The heavyweight wrestler also excelled on special teams. He blocked five kicks this season, which is a school record. On the season, Baxter finished with 60 tackles, including 33 solo and 21 for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He is drawing interest from FCS and FBS programs.
“I look forward to seeing what he does next season,” Lewis said.
Gabe Gray, Howard, senior.
A four-year varsity player and two-year starter on the defensive line, Gray was the Lions’ strongest player in the trenches on and off the field. He holds numerous school weightlifting records, and at 6-foot-2, 270 pounds, Gray consistently drew double teams that freed up linebackers to make tackles. Gray still managed to make 31 tackles on the year.
“Gabe created havoc and helped free up the linebackers to roam free,” Lions coach Ross Hannon said. “He was a leader on the 2019 team.”
Nick Harris, Marriotts Ridge, senior.
A UConn commit, Harris broke out during the Mustangs’ Week 2 win against Wilde Lake when he had seven tackles, including two for loss, and a pair of sacks.
“He showed superior speed off the edge,” Lewis said. “He was a really explosive player that when he decided to turn it up there was not much anybody could do to stop him. He has a rare combination of size and speed that we don’t get much of at Marriotts Ridge.”
Harris finished the season with 41 tackles, including 24 solo and six for loss, and four sacks. He is the first early Division-I commit in program history.
Elijah Saunders, Long Reach, senior.
Saunders will go down as one of the best defensive linemen in Lightning history. He was a four-year varsity player and three-year starter who earned a second-team All-County selection last season.
“For the last two seasons he has grown to a pillar of our program, both in the classroom and on the field,” Long Reach coach Jamie Willis said.
For the season, Saunders had 51 tackles with 11 for loss to go along with two sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery.
“Elijah was a dominant force versus the run with most teams opting to run away from him,” Willis said.
Zach Igwebe, River Hill, junior.
Igwebe was arguably the league’s best two-way player this season. The junior was the Hawks’ ground-and-pound running back and finished with 967 yards and 13 touchdowns on 169 carries, and he also made all the defensive calls from the linebacker position. He finished the year with 63 tackles, including six for loss and 37 solo, to go with a sack and a fumble recovery.
“He has great football intelligence,” Van Deusen said. “He is always around the ball and is a very good tackler.”
Igwebe had one of the county’s best rushing performance as well, running for 202 yards and two scores against Wilde Lake in the regular season. He also scored three times in a blowout win at Oakland Mills.
Jarrett Monah, Wilde Lake, senior.
Monah, who was a second-team selection last year, was a tackling machine for the Wildecats over the last two years. His 113 tackles last season were the third-most in the county, and this fall he led the league with 129. Monah had 18 tackles in a season-opening loss to Oakdale, 16 against Oakland Mills, 14 in a playoff win at River Hill and 13 in a shutout victory at Manchester Valley. Overall, he also had three sacks.
“Jarrett was a three-year starter and was the only player from the last playoff appearance still on the roster,” Wilde Lake coach Brian Henderson said. “He was our signal caller on defense and made every defensive call the past two years while never missing a game. His best performances were orchestrating and commanding the defense in the playoffs this year.”
Pierce Pusheck, Glenelg, junior.
A first-year starter, Pusheck was the quarterback of the Gladiators’ defense. He was responsible for getting everyone in the correct position and coverage pre-snap. Glenelg coach Tim Cullen said he improved each week, and by the end of the season he was a dominant linebacker.
“Pierce really took a big step Week 6 against Oakland Mills and its very successful run game, registering 13 tackles and three for loss,” Cullen said. “He was coachable, a great teammate and has a desire to be great, and it showed in how he practiced and how he works in the weight room. Pierce turned into one of our biggest leaders on the field at the end of the season.”
Pusheck finished the year with 111 tackles with 63 solo and eight for loss.
Ryan Reeling, Marriotts Ridge, senior.
Reeling was a sideline-to-sideline linebacker who led the Mustangs this season with 85 tackles, including 45 solo and eight for loss. He could also get in the backfield and totaled four sacks to go with three fumble recoveries. Reeling also contributed on offense and finished with 351 yards rushing and five touchdowns on 78 carries.
“Ryan had a nose for the football all year long on defense and a nose for the end zone on offense,” Lewis said. “He really got after it all game long, every game.”
Reeling had one of his best games in Marriotts Ridge’s breakthrough overtime win against River Hill with nine tackles and two fumble recoveries.
Drew Ross, Marriotts Ridge, junior.
Few players in Howard County got to the quarterback this season more than Ross. The junior had a school-record 10 sacks this fall, which were the second-most in the county, as well as 82 tackles (44 solo and eight for loss), a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. He had 14 tackles and two sacks against Wilde Lake, three sacks versus Reservoir and one against Long Reach, Hammond, Mt. Hebron, Atholton and Westminster. Ross was consistent tackling as well and finished with at least four in every game,
“Drew was all over the field and played with a high level of desire that set the tone for the rest of his season,” Lewis said.
Trisden Bovello, Glenelg, junior.
Bovello was a second-team All-County defensive back last season after registering eight interceptions. This fall, the junior picked off four passes, including one in a seven-point win against Marriotts Ridge and another in the playoffs against Liberty, and registered 31 tackles, including 24 solo and one for loss. He also recovered and forced a fumble.
“Trisden was voted a team captain this year and took the role very seriously. He loves to work out and is pound-for- pound the strongest player in our program,” Cullen said. “On the field, Trisden is as close to a shutdown corner as you can get. He understands coverage and watches film like a coach to gain tendencies and mental reps versus the opponent’s routes.”
Jericho Garvin, Marriotts Ridge, senior.
Garvin was a two-year varsity player who got his first chance to start this season and took advantage of it. He finished the year with 27 tackles, including 13 solo, and four interceptions and four passes defended.
“He was a pure cover-corner who was always in the right position,” Lewis said.” Thus, he was pretty consistent for us all year long.”
Garvin had interceptions against Wilde Lake, Long Reach and Atholton — one each in the regular season and playoff win — and head five tackles against Glenelg and Reservoir.
Khaleb Mair, Hammond, senior.
A three-year player and two-year starter in the defensive backfield, Mair was a student of the game who took his game to another level this fall. He registered 56 tackles, including 18 solo and three for loss, and four interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. He had an interception in the end zone against Reservoir to prevent a late score in an eight-point victory.
“Khaleb embodies the attitude and level of play we expect from our skill positions,” Hammond coach Will Bell said. “He set a standard for our younger players following in his footsteps. … He was a student of the game and always put himself in positions to make plays. He had a team-first mentality.”
Montrae Williams, Long Reach, senior.
Williams wasn’t the biggest player — he’s listed at 5-foot-8, 160 pounds — but he made his presence felt every time he took the field in his first and only season with the Lightning. He started the year red hot and intercepted a pass in each of his first three games against Woodlawn, Reservoir and Marriotts Ridge. Williams helped preserve the shutout against the Gators by forcing and recovering a fumble as they were driving to score, and he finished the season with 44 tackles.
“His ability to play in the box versus the run and the ability to cover slot receivers is a skill highly coveted in the era of spread offenses,” Willis said.
Chris Retzbach, Glenelg, senior.
Retzbach was a special teams ace for the Gladiators the last three years. He made several big kicks, including game-winners against Wilde Lake as a sophomore and against Howard this fall, and was consistently working on his craft both punting and kicking.
“Chris took pride in his craft and worked at it every single day at practice, usually by himself at the other end of the field,” Cullen said. “He was as calm and cool as any player was, and the more stressful the moment may have seemed to us Chris was not fazed and was ready to execute.”
This season, Retzbach made all four of his field goal attempts with a long of 44 against River Hill and punted for 1,258 yards with an average of 32.3 per attempt.
SECOND TEAM — DEFENSE
Cameron Burris, Wilde Lake, senior, defensive line
Miles Crook, Oakland Mills, senior, defensive line
Alex Dalton, Glenelg, junior, defensive line
Noah Jackson, Hammond, senior, defensive line
Dylan Aguilera, Howard, sophomore, linebacker
Nick Laumann, River Hill, junior, linebacker
Micah Nowlin, Hammond, senior, linebacker
Carson Robinson, Howard, junior, secondary
Derek Sandoval, River Hill, senior, secondary
Cole Tran, Marriotts Ridge, junior, secondary
Carson Robinson, Howard, junior, secondary
RaMal West, Wilde Lake, junior, secondary
Will Simmons, Howard, senior, punter
FINAL 2019 STANDINGS
River Hill*: 8-1 county, 8-2 overall; 311 points for, 95 points against
Marriotts Ridge*: 7-1, 8-3; 195 PF, 134 PA
Glenelg*: 5-1, 7-4; 299 PF, 223 PA
Oakland Mills: 6-3, 6-4; 428 PF, 244 PA
Hammond: 4-2, 5-5; 204 PF, 162 PA
Atholton: 3-5, 4-6; 198 PF, 227 PA
Wilde Lake^: 2-6, 4-8; 194 PF, 264 PA
Howard: 3-3, 3-6; 135 PF, 156 PA
Long Reach: 3-5, 3-7; 151 PF, 240 PA
Reservoir: 1-7, 1-8; 143 PF, 217 PA
Centennial: 1-1, 1-8; 94 PF, 269 PA
Mt. Hebron: 0-8. 1-8; 67 PF, 351 PA
^3A state quarterfinalists
HOWARD COUNTY FOOTBALL 2019 STATISTICAL DEFENSE LEADERS