Reservoir knew exactly what was coming when it played Oakland Mills on Sept. 27: Kai Castle on a quarterback counter to the left or to the right. It didn’t matter which direction he went; he couldn’t be stopped.
Among the 43 offensive plays the Scorpions had that night, the senior quarterback accounted for 32 of them, running the ball 30 times for 310 yards and five touchdowns in a 42-35 victory. It was the only 300-yard rushing performance and one of two five-score games for a county player this season.
“He should have had six touchdowns,” Oakland Mills coach Tom Browne said. “He got one called back for a crappy holding call.”
Yet, it was one of the 11 plays that he didn’t carry the ball that stood out when Browne reflected on the show Castle put on in Fulton and his season as a whole.
Castle handed the ball off on a jet sweep. He immediately became a blocker and pancaked the incoming defensive end. When the Oakland Mills running back ran out of room near the sideline and cut back across the field, Castle pancaked the same player again.
“It was hilarious,” Browne said bluntly. “He’s a freaking quarterback and had 15 pancakes this year. That’s insane. ... His toughness is something I’ll always put really high on the list as far as what made him so good. He’s not a big kid, but he’ll run you over.”
Castle’s memory from that contest was about finding the end zone, because that’s what it’s all about. He said he got sick at halftime — “I had to get something out my stomach,” he said — and when a coach checked on him the coach told him, “this is your night.”
“That’s when it kicked in,” Castle said. “I was in go-mode.”
Whichever highlight sticks out from that night, it was one of several monster games this year for Castle, who went from leading the county in passing yards as a junior to leading the county in rushing yards as a senior. It’s part of the reason why he is the 2019 Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Offensive Player of the Year, the third Oakland Mills quarterback to earn the honor in the last five years (David Pindell in 2014 and Tre Hopkins in 2015).
“It means a lot,” Castle said. “Not to sound ungrateful, but I wanted to be better than them because I looked up to them, you know, from middle school. ... I always wanted to be like, yeah, now I can really talk my stuff because I did what you did.”
“What stands out is just how much he’s progressed, how much better he’s gotten, how much more confident he got,” Browne said. “He’s just a classic high school kid who worked really hard and got better every year. I couldn’t be happier for him because he’s such a nice kid and someone who wanted to play quarterback his whole time, played behind some good ones and then got his chance and really took advantage of it.”
Being coachable is a term coaches throw around often, but Castle epitomized it. He started 10 games at cornerback as a sophomore, and when he got his chance to be the signal caller as a junior, the Scorpions scored the second-most points in the league with a spread-out attack that specialized in quarterback runs.
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Castle was the ultimate dual-threat last year, throwing for 1,154 yards and 14 touchdowns while completing 53 percent of his 183 pass attempts while also running for 971 yards and 13 touchdowns on 204 carries. He was named first-team All-County at quarterback.
Browne, however, found that out early this season that the offense couldn’t look the same if Oakland Mills were to be successful. He also had Castle starting on offense and defense during the Scorpions’ Week 1 loss to Hammond.
“I just gassed him out that game,” Browne admitted. “My game plan was poor that game and once we made him play one way, it made all the difference in the world. He’s fresh. He could carry the ball 25 times a game.”
That’s what Browne said needed to happen to have success. He needed Castle to take over, and that’s what Castle wanted.
“Sometimes I’d call a play for somebody else and they’d turn the ball over and fumble or something, and he’d just say, ‘Well, just give me the ball. Just give me the ball.’ And that’s the kind of kid he was,” Browne said. “You want the ball in his hands, and that’s a fun thing when you get a kid like that. He’s tough as nails.”
After a subpar performance in Week 1, Browne put his trust in his quarterback, and Castle took off. He had 36 carries for 192 yards and three touchdowns in a Week 2 win at Atholton. Castle added 128 yards and three scores on the ground the next week, dominated Reservoir the following game, then had 155, 181 and 110 yards rushing the next three games against Long Reach, Glenelg and Howard.
River Hill held him to a season-low 44 yards in Week 8, but Castle responded with 211 yards and three scores on just 15 carries in a 56-28 win at Wilde Lake. In the playoff game at Liberty, Castle had 169 yards and two more touchdowns on 18 carries.
Overall, Castle finished the season with 243 carries for 1,571 yards — an average of 6.47 yards per carry — and 21 touchdowns while fumbling just once, and he passed for 229 yards and three touchdowns while completing 26 of 57 attempts. He led all county players in rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns.
Castle’s toughness and team-first attitude, Browne said, will always stick with him. He said few players would have been able to roll with the punches as well as Castle did this year with the offensive adjustments.
“I’ve been really lucky to have some kids who can throw and run, and Kai is right there with them,” Browne said. “But they were kind of given the opportunity to do both of those things, and with Kai, I just thought that he would help us as a team to be more ground-based, to use some more of the clock. I think a lot of high school kids would be pretty upset about not being able to throw the ball and wouldn’t be mature enough to just trust the coaching staff and be a team-first guy, and Kai never once said one thing.”
Also named to first-team All-County — Offense:
Eric Grinwis, Hammond, junior.
Grinwis was key in leading the Golden Bears’ turnaround this season. The first-year starter completed more than 55 percent of his passes — 92 of 167 — for 1,272 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. He started the season off with a bang by throwing three touchdowns in a 33-21 win against Oakland Mills. He also had two touchdowns against Catonsville and Mt. Hebron and threw for a season-high 192 yards against Parkville. Grinwis threw for at least 100 yards in eight of his 10 games.
“Eric’s best football is ahead of him. He’s a smart player and carries the right attitude for the quarterback position,” Hammond coach Will Bell said. “He was our engine and always put us in positions to be successful.”
Anthony Behrmann, River Hill, senior.
A speedy runner who often ran outside the numbers, Behrmann was one of three county players to amass 1,000 yards rushing this season. He finished the year with 1,047 yards 11 touchdowns on 141 carries and was also the Hawks’ leading receiver with 183 yards on 11 catches. Behrmann had a season-high 162 yards on 28 carries against Howard but also was consistent, collecting six 100-yard games. He had two rushing touchdowns in four games and scored in seven of 10 overall.
“Anthony has great speed and football instincts,” River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen said. “He runs good routes, catches the ball well and has the ability to make people miss. He always seemed to make big plays in the big games.”
Kyle Dry, Glenelg, senior.
Dry made his own mark this season taking over for Wande Owens and finished with the second-most rushing yards (1,426) and touchdowns (15) in the county on 231 carries. He gained more than 120 yards in seven games and had a season-high 188 against Oakland Mills.
Dry, who also started three years at cornerback, excelled down the stretch with 670 yards and seven scores over the final four games. His signature moment came in the air when his first career catch was a game-winning 57-yarder against Smyrna inside the final 30 seconds.
“Kyle was voted captain by his teammates and really embraced the role,” Gladiators coach Tim Cullen said. “Kyle was great on defense and we knew we could rely on him to get us the tough yards in all 11 games, eight of which were decided by seven points or less.”
At just 5-foot-8, 145 pounds, Dry totaled 2,251 yards and 29 touchdowns in his career.
Antoine Holmes, Oakland Mills, junior.
Holmes was a perfect complement to Castle this season. A first-year varsity starter on both offense and defense, he finished with 779 yards rushing and six touchdowns on 125 carries.
“He was our only junior team captain, which means his peers respected him, as well as his coaches,” Browne said. “He's a hard worker and physical on both sides of the ball. He excelled at carrying the ball, as well as lead blocking for Kai in the run game.”
Holmes breakthrough game came against Wilde Lake in Week 9. He had 226 yards on 12 carries, 45 yards on two catches and five touchdowns — four rushing, one receiving — in a 56-28 victory. Browne said he expects Holmes to be the team’s quarterback next season.
Drew Sotka, Glenelg, senior.
A state champion wrestler, Sotka was dominant on both sides of the ball at tight end and linebacker for the Gladiators this season. He was efficient, catching 18 passes for 263 yards and six touchdowns, and was an excellent blocker for a team that ran for nearly 2,500 yards.
“Drew was voted a team captain, and his personality and attitude was absorbed by our team and helped us play with an edge in all three phases,” Cullen said. “On the field, we threw it to him the most, ran it behind him the most and even ran it to him from the tight end spot.”
On defense, Sotka had five interceptions, two fumble recoveries a sack, a safety, three touchdowns and 68 tackles.
Rashaud Littlejohn, Long Reach, senior.
Littlejohn continued a trend and is the most recent Lightning wide out to lead Howard County in receiving yards. The senior broke out this fall and caught 41 passes for 733 yards and eight touchdowns, and he had at least two receptions in every game. He was a model of consistency, too, and had between 78 and 110 yards in seven of his 10 games and spread his scores across eight games. He had a season-high 110 yards in Week 1 against Woodlawn but had three other 100-yard games.
“Rashaud is one of, if not the most dangerous player with the ball in his hands in Howard County,” Long Reach coach Jamie Willis said. “Every time he touches the ball it has a chance to go the distance. He is a playmaker.”
Jaylin Moore, Marriotts Ridge, senior.
A two-year starter, Moore was the Mustangs’ go-to playmaker throughout the season. While he didn’t have more than 60 yards receiving in any games and caught 27 passes for 357 yards and three touchdowns, he ran for 139 and two scores in a 42-0 win against Mt. Hebron and finished the season with 34 carries for 253 yards and four touchdowns.
Moore’s breakthrough game came in Marriotts Ridge’s overtime win against River Hill. He caught a game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter, tied the game again with a score on the ground in overtime, and then caught the game-ending two-point conversion in a 15-14 win. He also intercepted two passes in the contest.
“He single-handedly won us the River Hill game. He was a one-man wrecking crew,” Mustangs coach Marcus Lewis said. “Probably the single best performance I have ever seen at Marriotts Ridge.”
Curtis Eley, Howard, junior.
Eley had a slow start to the year but finished as strong as any player in the league. He had at least one reception in every game and caught a season-best six in a 21-0 win against Wilde Lake and had a season-high 66 yards against Glenelg. He scored his only touchdown in a close defeat to River Hill and finished the year with 34 catches for 331 yards and a score. Eley excelled in other areas as well, running for 61 yards on 14 carries, returning an interception for a touchdown on defense, and returning three kickoffs for touchdowns.
“CJ is a dynamic player with the football in his hands,” Lions coach Ross Hannon said. “He’s an explosive player who has the speed to outrun defenders who may have an angle on him.”
Dylan Altman, Reservoir, senior.
Altman was the key player for the Gators’ offensive and defensive line this season. The three-year starter moved around the offensive line and started at tackle, guard and even center throughout the year to line up against the opposing team’s best lineman. A county finalist and state place-winner as a wrestler, Altman was usually at the point of attack on the strong side of the line and was aggressive with great technique.
“He was definitely a fun young man to coach and one of those kids you like to have on your team,” Gators coach Bryan Cole said. “He was one of our team captains as well and a great young man. He’s a competitor.”
Ethan Brown, River Hill, senior.
The Hawks had serious question marks about its offensive line entering the season, but the one player they could count on was Brown. The only returning starter of the group, Brown’s experience and leadership helped his fellow linemen pave the way for 308 rushing yards per game. The three-year varsity player was also a stout defensive lineman at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds.
“Ethan provided experience and leadership up front that helped us run the ball effectively. He is strong, has quick feet and is an excellent run blocker,” said Van Deusen. “Ethan is a true scholar athlete — he excels in the classroom and on the field.”
Tommy Kern, Glenelg, senior.
Kern was a fullback and linebacker for two years on JV before switching positions to offensive and defensive line last year, and his dedication to the offseason program and weightlifting earned him a starting spot at left guard this fall.
“Tommy worked extremely hard to learn two new positions and excelled at both,” Cullen said. “His hard work and sacrifice for the betterment of the team was one of the reasons we were so successful this year.
“Tommy was a great leader on the offensive line and for the entire team. He won our spring lift-a-thon and is the strongest player in our football program. Tommy took pride in his technique and fundamentals and it showed on the field. He was a very smart player and was able to explain the whole picture to the other guys on the line.”
Brayden Simmons, Oakland Mills, senior.
Simmons started nine games at center for the Scorpions in his only season as a starter and was key for an offense that needed accurate snaps in the shotgun. He also made all the offensive line calls and routinely pulled on their popular counter play.
“Most centers rarely pull, so this was a great advantage for us,” Browne said. “He was smart and coachable. He took what we worked on all week and applied it to the game. He asked good questions and was able to adjust during the games.”
Browne said Castle’s 300-yard rushing game against Reservoir wouldn’t have been possible with Simmons, who had multiple double teams.
“Brayden came back from a major injury his junior year which basically sidelined him the entire year,” Browne said. “He worked his butt off and earned a starting spot and ended up having a great senior season.”
Matthew Thomas, Atholton, senior.
Thomas was a three-year starter who set the tone on the offensive line with his physicality and aggression, which coach Justin Carey said was contagious. The Raiders often ran behind Thomas, and he was instrumental in helping Melvin Brown run for nearly 1,200 yards last season. This fall, Atholton had four players gain more than 100 yards on the ground.
“Matthew is selfless and he put others before him. That was his mentality to excel at offensive line,” Carey said. “Matt was a part of our offensive line club called the ‘Alpha Raiders,’ a tight-knit group that wanted to be nasty and physical.”
Amari Hutson, Wilde Lake, junior.
Hutson, a three-year starter, did a little bit of everything for the Wildecats this season. He has played punter, slot receiver and running back on offense, and on defense he’s played safety and some linebacker. He excelled out wide, however, and caught 20 passes for 334 yards and five touchdowns for the 3A state quarterfinalists, and on defense he had 68 tackles, including nine for loss, and two interceptions.
“He is a special player that just begun to reach his potential,” Wilde Lake coach Brian Henderson said. “He’s one of the most dynamic athletes on the field.”
Against Atholton, Hutson ran the ball, caught a touchdown as wide receiver, punted the football, and had more than 10 tackles, a strip sack and two interceptions on defense.
Sam Nason, Wilde Lake, senior.
Nason took over for first-team All-County kicker Elywn Yount this season and was nearly perfect for the Wildecats. He made all 21 of his extra points and was “almost automatic” for any kick inside the 25-yard line, Henderson said. Nason made three field goals against Glenelg and finished the season 7 of 10 on field goal attempts with a season-long of 44 yards.
“Sam served as the offensive spark for the Wildecats during periods when we needed to score to stay competitive in several games,” Henderson said.
SECOND TEAM — OFFENSE
Malcolm Brown, Reservoir, junior, quarterback
Zach Bedell, Marriotts Ridge, senior, running back
Sam Mercedes, Hammomd, senior, running back
Guan Morris, Mt. Hebron, junior, running back
Jonathan Watkins, Atholton, senior, running back
Jermore Kent, Atholton, senior, tight end
Jalen Jasmin, Reservoir, senior, wide receiver
Anthony Matthews, Centennial, senior, wide receiver
Tayshawn Yates, Hammond, junior, wide receiver
Gurdeep Barring, River Hill, junior, offensive line
Chris Buehlman, Mt. Hebron, junior, offensive line
Jackson Knisley, Oakland Mills, senior, offensive line
Sam Gruber, Glenelg, junior, offensive line
Ming Nelson, Oakland Mills, senior, offensive line
Darius Ellerbe, Reservoir, senior, all purpose
Santiago Bryant, River Hill, senior, kicker
FINAL 2019 STANDINGS
River Hill*: 8-1 county, 8-2 overall; 311 points for, 95 points against