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Howard County football continues youth movement

It's long been known that what Michael Campanaro did in a River Hill Hawks jersey was special. For what he lacked in size he made up for with overpowering toughness, quickness and speed. It's part of the reason why the former high school running back has more receptions than any other Wake Forest Demon Deacon and is entering his fourth NFL season with the Baltimore Ravens.

But even Campanaro, the 2007 and 2008 Howard County Times Offensive Player of the Year and the last two-time winner, never accomplished what Glenelg running back Wande Owens did a year ago — win the award as a sophomore. In fact, no county player ever had.

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Owens' 2,504 rushing yards were a county record, but Howard running back Devin Dawkins also ran wild a year ago. He entered the 2016 campaign unsure if he was the No. 1 running back and left it with 1,867 rushing yards under his belt and knowing he could have been the first sophomore to be named Offensive Player of the Year if it weren't for Owens.

The youth movement didn't stop on the offensive side of the ball. River Hill safety Beau Brade, who made the fifth-most tackles in the league last year with 109, was one of the only freshmen to ever earn all-county honors.

"Years ago when I first started coaching it was very rare to see a sophomore get a lot of time and you hardly ever saw a freshman," said Hawks coach Brian Van Duesen, who is entering his 18th year as head coach. "Maybe it's the youth programs developing and some of these players are coming in having been through clinics and doing strength training and they're able to contribute to varsity right away. ... Wande and Devin, those guys are excellent, two of the top players in the county last year as sophomores. Everyone expects big things from those guys as juniors so our job is to contain those guys and slow them down a little bit.

"But I think it's exciting for the county to see some of these younger guys and see guys that do well for three or four years."

Glenelg coach Butch Schaffer is as excited as anybody knowing Owens will be wearing the "Big G" and taking handoffs for two more years. He's known Owens for nearly a decade and knew that even as a freshman he would be ready to compete on the varsity level as long as he was physically ready. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound running back proved as much when he scored three touchdowns when he was called upon to spell then-injured senior Trey Davis for the Gladiators' playoff game against Chesapeake-AA.

Schaffer said Davis, as well as the other young stars in the county, are likely ahead of their time because of the work they are putting in before even reaching high school.

"I think it's a credit to the kids and coaches around the county, the type of training programs that we're using," he said. "We're getting kids to lift weights at a little bit of an earlier age so they're physically ready to step up at that time. Before that they weren't ready physically. That's the biggest change — the amount of work kids are putting in."

Perhaps not as physically imposing as Owens, who averaged more than 27 carries per game in 2016, Dawkins is a home-run threat every time he touches the ball. He averaged 9.2 yards per carry and 18.8 yards per reception last year and racked up 157 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in less than two quarters of play in the 4A North regional championship game against Mervo before a broken collarbone ended his season.

He says he is 100 percent and is stronger than ever after spending the offseason in the weight room, and new Howard coach Ross Hannon has been impressed with what he's seen from his dynamic running back.

"Devin is amazing because he is competitive," said Hannon, who was the Lions' secondary coach under former coach Bruce Strunk and had previous stints as head coach at Centennial and Mt. Hebron. "The one thing he has is a love for this game like no other. I don't care if it's seven-on-seven and he's catching a swing pass, he's running to the end zone. ... He does not quit and I appreciate that because he works on his game all the time. He's very elusive, he's smart, he's got great vision, he sets up his blocks, he's more physical than people give him credit for and this year he's had a great summer in the weight room. I think that will help him in his game this year."

The top two offensive players in the county won't have to wait long to showcase who should be the frontrunner for this year's player of the year award. Glenelg and Howard square off in the Lions' Den to kickoff the season on Sept. 2 in the 60th battle for the Elgard Trophy.

Aside from Owens and Dawkins, the matchup between last year's 3A East region and 4A North region champions carries more significance this time than perhaps ever before considering the Gladiators ended the Lions' 32-game county winning streak with a 25-20 victory on Oct. 28 last fall.

"There's a lot of motivation for everybody on the team, not just for Wande and me, just for the Elgard Trophy itself," Dawkins said. "We want to take the Elgard back to Howard."

"We're not looking at it like Wande versus Devin; we're looking at it like Glenelg High versus Howard High and that's all we're looking at," Schaffer said. "We obviously know Devin is talented, one of the best running backs we are ever going to see in person, but it's still the Howard Lions versus the Glenelg Gladiators. ... We know what kind of challenge we're facing Week 1."

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Glenelg returns a talented core of skill-position players on both offense and defense, led by four-year starter defensive back Garrett Mills (3 INT in 2016) and three-year starting linebackers Sam Alsheimer (82 tackles) and Chase Miller (75 tackles) and defensive back Eric Gruber, as well as second-team all-county senior defensive lineman Phil Johnson (10 sacks). But its strength last year — the offensive line — was hit hard by graduation.

Howard, the three-time defending county and 4A North region champions, returns senior quarterback Robby Porter (127-for-197, 1,567 passing yards, 17 TDs) to pair with Dawkins. Running backs DJ Howard (65 carries, 425 yards, 4 TDs) and Robert Agbai (48 carries, 319 yards, 2 TDs) are back as well and will allow Dawkins to move around the field. Senior wide receiver Anthony Reid (21 receptions, 294 yards, 2 TDs) could be in for a big year as the No. 1 threat outside.

First-team all-county senior linebacker Ryan Kearney (109 tackles, 3 INT) will lead a defense that allowed seven points or less in nine of its 13 games last year.

Elsewhere in the county, Long Reach has the talent to be the best team in the league this fall. It returns 16 starters overall — tied for the most in the county — including first-team all-county senior offensive lineman Spencer Willis and second-team all-county seniors in defensive lineman Michael Zeleznik (55 tackles), senior running back KaDarrian Booker (157 carries, 757 yards, 11 TDs), wide receiver Derrick Noble (26 receptions, 469 yards. 2 TDs) and offensive lineman Reggie Dillon.

Senior defensive backs Jeree Willie (3 INT) and Dane Lynch, Jr. (4 INT) will have to fill a giant hole left by the recent departure of first-team all-county defender Chad Brown, who left the school in mid-August and reclassified as a junior at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore.

Senior Tyler Moore will have bigger shoes to fill at quarterback as he replaces first-team all-county signal caller Tyler Raines, but Lightning coach Jamie Willis has high hopes for his former JV star.

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"Tyler Moore is an outstanding young man," he said. "Two years ago as a sophomore, this senior class won the JV [county] championship and he was the quarterback of that unit so he understands how to lead and how to lead the guys he's been with the last four years."

River Hill exceeded expectations and overcame a number of injuries to upset the top-seeded Lightning in the first round of the 3A East region playoffs last year. The Hawks now enter the 2017 campaign healthy thanks to the return of seniors Brett Shaw and Tucker Finkelston. Those two will combine with an experienced core that includes Brade, first-team all-county seniors wide receiver Brendan McKenna (53 carries, 362 yards, 3 TDs; 56 receptions, 525 yards, TD) and punter/kicker/linebacker Cooper McGeehan, as well as second-team all-county senior quarterback Luke Champion (152-for-258, 1,498 yards, 7 TDs).

"We're excited about our defense this year and we have a little bit more speed than we've had in the past," Van Deusen said. "Offensively we've got a lot of skill guys back. ... I think the big thing will be seeing how our offensive line jells together."

Wilde Lake, which earned the No. 3 seed in the 3A East region playoffs a year ago, has 10 returning starters but also six freshmen and five sophomores on varsity. It's been a four-way battle between Eli Fisher, Ahmed Diaby, Stanley Thomas and Nate Hicks for the starting quarterback position, but coach Michael Harrison has some capable players at running back.

Defensively, Saleem Jackson (115 tackles), Osita Smith (7 sacks) and Abu McGruder (7.5 sacks) are all-county returners in the secondary, line backing corps and defensive line, respectively.

Atholton has a strong junior class and, despite going 11-9 over the last two years, is looking to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

Reservoir had a disappointing 2016 season and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011 but finished strong by winning its final four games. The Gators return 16 starters overall, including senior quarterback Jordan Green, but are young at key positions.

"Having a senior quarterback with 10 games under his belt in Jordan Green will be an asset to the team, especially early in the season," Reservoir coach Bryan Cole said. "Our summer training program has gone well and we have some great leadership going into the season."

Marriotts Ridge hasn't had a losing season since 2013 and coach Marcus Lewis says he will attempt to make up for his team's lack of size with quickness and speed.

"We will attempt to control the ball on offense and play a blitzing style defense that has been our trademark the past couple of years," he added.

Mt. Hebron has a new coach in Michael McCarthy, who replaces Phil Zacharias, and Oakland Mills has enough pieces to compete with any team in the league.

Several changes took place away from the field. Many county teams will play just nine games after Centennial disbanded its varsity football team because a "lack of sufficient players and concern for student safety made this a necessary decision," according to a news release from HCPSS on Aug. 18.

"It's unfortunate with the timing of everything. If we would have known earlier these teams would have a better chance to get a game rescheduled because I think all these teams want to play 10," Van Deusen said. "... Hopefully everyone finds a game and hopefully Centennial is back next year and they can get that program going so we don't have to go through it again next year, but I think the redistricting [taking place next year] is something that needs to be done to help out some of these schools with smaller enrollment and kind of balance things out again."

There's also new regional alignment throughout the state, and many county teams have moved classifications. Howard remains in the Class 4A North region, while Atholton, Mt. Hebron, Reservoir and Long Reach are staying in the Class 3A East region alongside Chesapeake-AA, Northeast-AA, J.M. Bennett and Stephen Decatur.

Glenelg, Hammond, Marriotts Ridge, Oakland Mills, River Hill and Wilde Lake have moved down to the Class 2A South region with Southern-AA, Calvert, Patuxent, La Plata, Thomas Stone and Westlake.

Here's a closer look at what to expect from the 11 county programs:

*2016 first-team all-county player; ^2016 second-team all-county player

Atholton

2016 record: 6-4 county, 6-4 overall

Coach: Justin Carey

Returning offensive starters: 2

Returning defensive starters: 4

Offensive scheme: Spread

Defensive scheme: 3-4

Top offensive players: Seniors Shemar Weisweaver (WR) and Jordan Marsh (RB); juniors Brandon Houston (WR), Melvin Brown (RB), Jake Dickerson (OL) and Kevin Brown (OL).

Top defensive players: Seniors Khalil Abdul-Malik (LB/DE), Jaylin Harding (LB), Cordell Carrington (LB/DE), Kade Singleton (CB) and Treyvon Matthews (S).

Glenelg

2016 record: 8-2, 10-3

Coach: Butch Schaffer

Returning offensive starters: 5

Returning defensive starters: 7

Offensive scheme: Flex bone

Defensive scheme: Multiple 50

Top offensive players: Seniors Cory Willson (OL/DL), Mitch Boswell (TE/DE) and Matt Lipp (WR/DB); juniors Wande Owens* (RB/DB) and Sam Alsheimer^ (RB/LB).

Top defensive players: Seniors Phil Johnson^ (DL/OL), Garrett Mills (DB/WR), Chase Miller (LB/RB) and Max Sotka (LB/RB); junior Eric Gruber (DB/WR).

Hammond

2016 record: 0-10, 0-10

Coach: Shawn Frederick

Returning offensive starters: 3

Returning defensive starters: 2

Offensive scheme: Spread

Defensive scheme: 3-3

Top offensive players: Seniors Aaron Powell^ (OL/DL) and Tekye Evans (WR/LB).

Top defensive players: Senior Tysean Berry (DE); junior Tyler Walters (LB/FB).

Howard

2016 record: 9-1, 11-2

Coach: Ross Hannon

Returning offensive starters: 5

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Returning defensive starters: 4

Offensive scheme: Pistol

Defensive scheme: 3-3-5

Top offensive players: Seniors Alan Gorny (OL), Anthony Reid^ (WR) and Robby Porter (QB); junior Devin Dawkins* (RB).

Top defensive players: Seniors Ryan Kearney* (LB), Demetrius Majors (DT) and Peyton Jones (DB).

Long Reach

2016 record: 8-2, 8-3

Coach: Jamie Willis

Returning offensive starters: 9

Returning defensive starters: 7

Offensive scheme: Shotgun spread

Defensive scheme: 4-2-5

Top offensive players: Seniors Tyler Moore (QB), Derrick Noble^ (WR), KaDarrian Booker^ (RB), Spencer Willis* (OL) and Reggie Dillon^ (OL).

Top defensive players: Seniors Michael Zeleznik^ (DL), Dane Lynch, Jr. (DB) and Jeree Willie (DB); junior Jeremy Huffman (LB).

Marriotts Ridge

2016 record: 5-5, 5-5

Coach: Marcus Lewis

Returning offensive starters: 3

Returning defensive starters: 4

Offensive scheme: Wing-T

Defensive scheme: 3-4

Top offensive players: Seniors Eli Turner^ (RB) and Troy Hettinger* (WR/K); junior Robinson Davis (RB).

Top defensive players: Seniors Abeku Abercrombie (DE) and Justin Hooper (LB).

Mt. Hebron

2016 record: 2-8. 2-8

Coach: Michael McCarthy

Returning offensive starters: 6

Returning defensive starters: 8

Offensive scheme: Spread and pro

Defensive scheme: 4-4

Top offensive players: Seniors Joey Schwartz (RB), Peter Karmilowicz (TE) and Mark Lettieri (QB); junior Kobe Hill (WR).

Top defensive players: Seniors Keinon Odom (DE), Nick Nordhausen (LB), Nick Kent (CB), Stephen Taylor (LB) and Glen Turner (S/CB).

Oakland Mills

2016 record: 4-6, 4-6

Coach: Tom Browne

Returning offensive starters: 6

Returning defensive starters: 5

Offensive scheme: Spread option

Defensive scheme: 3-3-5

Top offensive players: Seniors Jorie Kolliegbo (RB/LB), Shallon Robinson (QB), Zyon Turner (WR/DB) and Dorian Cooper (OL/DL).

Top defensive players: Seniors Jaden Ealey (DE/RB) and Mulbah Kamara (LB/OL); juniors Anthony Morales (LB/OL) and Rayshawn White, Jr. (DL/OL).

Reservoir

2016 record: 4-6, 4-6

Coach: Bryan Cole

Returning offensive starters: 7

Returning defensive starters: 9

Offensive scheme: Run oriented pro style

Defensive scheme: 4-3 under

Top offensive players: Seniors Jordan Green (QB), Justin Green (WR) and Brendan Peters (RB).

Top defensive players: Seniors Ebissa Sambo (CB), Max Reed (DE) and Tyler Kelly (LB).

River Hill

2016 record: 6-4, 7-5

Coach: Brian Van Deusen

Returning offensive starters: 6

Returning defensive starters: 8

Offensive scheme: Hybrid wing-t

Defensive scheme: 3-5-3

Top offensive players: Seniors Luke Champion^ (QB), Brendan McKenna* (WR/RB), Brett Shaw (QB/RB), Tucker Finkelston (TE) and Alex Florenzo (OL/DL); sophomore Anthony Behrmann (RB).

Top defensive players: Seniors Austin Abraham (LB), Danny Peletski (LB), Cooper McGeehan* (LB/K/P), Brett Schwab (DL), Zach Wasilewski (DL) and Lance Mercy (DL); juniors Spencer Brockdorff (LB) and Jack Island (DL); sophomore Beau Brade^ (DB).

Wilde Lake

2016 record: 7-3, 7-4

Coach: Michael Harrison

Returning offensive starters: 6

Returning defensive starters: 4

Offensive scheme: Gun double wing

Defensive scheme: 3-5-3

Top offensive players: Seniors David Joseph (T/NG), Lane Dickerson (C/G/DE), DeAndre Dyson (G/LB) and Will Allen (RB).

Top defensive players: Seniors Saleem Jackson* (S/RB) and Abu McGruder^ (DE/TE/WR); juniors Osita Smith^ (LB/RB/WR) and Christian Lesane (CB/WR).

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