Glenelg running back Wande Owens walked off the field Nov. 20, 2015 after a 10-7 defeat at the hands of Reservoir in the 3A East regional championship game with the weight of the loss on his shoulders.
Owens, then a freshman, was starting in the place of the county's then all-time single-season rushing leader Trey Davis when, in his second ever varsity start, he fumbled with 6 minutes remaining in what would be the Gladiators' last opportunity to score and defend their regional title.
"I held a grudge. I was really angry after that. I felt like the loss was my fault," said Owens. "I guess we lost as a team but I played a big role in that. It made me angry because I knew I could do better. I had a lot of motivation."
The young former back-up JV running back thought he let his team and the senior class down, but was determined to overcome it. To Glenelg coach Butch Schaffer, the effect the moment had on Owens was clear as he watched the runner use it as daily motivation throughout the offseason.
"It's a great lesson he learned. He fumbled because it was extra effort. Those kind of things — he was working for an extra yard, and in those situations you have to be cognizant of the ball and aware of the situation and when to go for the extra yard and when you don't," said Schaffer. "It was a great learning experience and a great lesson for him to learn, but he learned the lesson. He bounced back and he was a tougher person, a stronger person because of it. ... He worked extremely hard and got himself a lot stronger and a lot faster. He took that fumble and used it as motivation."
Owens more than made up for the mistake this season. Behind a dominant offensive line and a game plan that every opposing team knew featured run after run this fall, Owens had a season like no other runner in county history en route to being named the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Offensive Player of the Year.
He set a new single-season county rushing record this fall with 2,504 rushing yards — 375 more than Davis had last year in his record-breaking season — for an average of 192.6 per game, scored a county-best 28 touchdowns and accounted for nearly 65 percent of the offensive yardage for a team that won 10 games and their fourth-ever regional championship.
"I had a great season and it really means a lot," Owens said of being the first running back to be Player of the Year since 2013 and the first sophomore to win any county football Player of the Year honor in more than 35 years. "My team and I put in the work in practice to get better every day. It means a lot to see your hard work being rewarded. ... I never would have imagined this last year but our line did their job; our coaches and everyone got the job done."
Before the ups and downs of his first two varsity seasons, Owens grew up watching his three older brothers suit up for the red and black. Schaffer coached all three of his brothers — including 2015 first-team all-county performer Brent Richardson — and has known Owens since he was about 5 or 6 years old. He knew Owens was going to be a special player from Day 1, and watching him during JV games his freshman season it was evident to everyone that he had innate abilities that few running backs possess.
Owens gained 25 pounds and grew 2 inches between his freshman and sophomore seasons. With his body prepared to carry the load of a bruising offensive game plan — he had 356 carries and averaged more than 27 per game — Owens exceeded everyone's expectations.
"We knew coming into this year what he was capable of doing. ... He not only can run hard and powerful, he also has the ability to break it to the next level in the open field," Schaffer said. "His strengths are his vision. He just has a knack for seeing things before they happen. He just anticipates well and doesn't take a lot of big shots. I don't know how he does it; it's a natural instinct.
"It's kind of amazing what Wande did. He exceeded all of my expectations and I had high expectations."
The statistics, meanwhile, speak for themselves. He gained at least 123 yards in each of his first 12 games and had touchdowns in all but two. In a stretch of five-straight games late in the year, against Marriotts Ridge, Howard, Centennial to close the regular season and in playoff wins over Wilde Lake and River Hill, Owens ran for 1,227 yards and scored 14 times. In those games he averaged more than 32 carries per contest.
Owens, however, said that while the statistics and records are memorable, the team's success always came first. And with the way the Gladiators' season came to a disappointing end in a 30-7 loss to Franklin in a 3A state semifinal game, in which Franklin held Owens to 56 yards on 23 carries, he has a new motivating factor heading into next season.
"We accomplished a lot this year and it's really positive to be one of the best teams in Glenelg's history. But we just strived to get better and be the best team, not one of the best teams," he said. "It's unfinished business until we get a state title."
Also named to the first-team offense:
Tyler Raines, Long Reach, senior.
A second-team all-county quarterback a year ago, Raines was the unquestioned leader of the offense on the field and his development was a big reason for the Lightning's six-win improvement this fall.
He led the county with 1,927 passing yards and was second with 11 touchdown passes. Against Atholton in Week 2, Raines took the Lightning on a six-play, 59-yard drive and went 3-for-3 for 53 yards to set up the game-winning score.
"This drive was key to our 7-0 start and got us over the hump to start the season," said Long Reach coach Jamie Willis.
Other big games included a 14-for-25, 244-yard performance versus Marriotts Ridge and a 35-7 win over Glenelg in which Raines went 14-for-24 for 172 yards and two touchdowns.
"His legacy is one that helped turn this program around and get us back on track," Willis said. "He has also created a standard for those who are to come after him in the program."
Devin Dawkins, Howard, sophomore.
Finding a dynamic threat to replace first-team all-county running back Malik Anderson was likely the Lions' biggest key for success coming into the season and Dawkins proved to be up to the task.
The Player of the Year candidate made an immediate impact in Howard's first game against Reservoir, catching four passes for 132 yards and a score.
"Devin had a great JV season his freshman year, but it was versus Reservoir that we knew that he could be something special," said Lions coach Bruce Strunk. "In that game, when Devin got into space, defensive players could not tackle him."
His 203 carries, 1,867 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground were all second most in the county. His vision made him a home run threat every touch and the Lions desperately missed him in their state semifinal game at Wise after he broke his collarbone in the team's regional championship victory over Mervo.
"Devin has great vision. This allowed him to find holes at the last second," Strunk said. "Along with this, he was very coachable and listened to what we wanted him to do. He played within the system and didn't freelance."
Kyle Fehr, Reservoir, senior.
A year after having two runners gain more than 1,000 yards, Fehr was the unquestioned running back for the Gators this season.
He finished the year third in the county with 1,074 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns on 188 carries. Fehr, a second-team all-county defensive back last year, ran for at least 96 yards in six games and picked up steam down the stretch to lead Reservoir to wins in its final four games. He totaled 589 yards and 10 touchdowns in those victories, including 185 yards and four touchdowns against Centennial and 189 yards and three scores versus Marriotts Ridge.
"Kyle had a tremendous year for us, rushing over a 1,000 yards," said Gators coach Bryan Cole. "He is a dynamic athlete and individual who was a spark for not only the offense, but for our team as well. He was a leader on offense and defense."
Stanley Kirkland, Wilde Lake, senior.
After an 0-2 start to what was supposed to be a breakthrough season for the Wildecats, Kirkland was crucial to their ensuing four-game winning streak and eventual seven-win season.
"His play in our running game was pivotal in turning around our season," said Wilde Lake coach Michael Harrison.
He ran for 114 yards — including a 72-yard touchdown — on just nine carries in a Week-3 win over Glenelg and followed with 171 yards and a score in a dominating victory against Atholton. He finished the season with 867 yards and eight rushing touchdowns, while also playing linebacker on defense.
"Stanley Kirkland is a hard-nosed runner with the ability and explosiveness to break off the long run," said Harrison. "On defense he brought aggressiveness and toughness to the linebacker position. ... He has a passion for the game and uses his passion and determination to motivate himself and his teammates."
Jalen Hall, Long Reach, senior.
Hall was the Lightning's go-to wide receiver from start to finish this season, but coach Jamie Willis credited his competitiveness and leadership as reasons for his success.
"Every day he wanted to get better, whether it was working on his footwork or releases to his route running," he said. "He wanted to be the best and if you thought otherwise he would challenge you to guard him. I don't believe he lost any of those."
He finished tied for the league lead with six touchdowns, second with 565 yards receiving and fourth with 43 receptions. Hall had six receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown in a win over Marriotts Ridge and had a four-game stretch late in the season where he caught 22 passes for 219 yards. He also ran for 102 yards on nine carries.
"His legacy is one of holding others accountable and showing that there are no excuses for hard work," Willis said. "He showed our younger guys what they can achieve."
Jordan Hopkins, Oakland Mills, senior.
The younger brother of last year's Offensive Player of the Year Tre Hopkins, Jordan was the focal point of the Scorpions' offense this season.
"'Jhop' was a team captain and leader on offense for us this year," said Oakland Mills coach Tom Browne. "Often times teams knew that we were targeting him in the passing game and he still was able to make big catches in critical situations for us."
Hopkins led the county in receptions (61) and receiving yards (891) and tied for the second-most touchdown catches with five. He had two games with 10 receptions and had at least 59 receiving yards in every game, including 188 against Atholton and 120 versus River Hill. He also caught a touchdown that sparked the Scorpions' comeback win over Reservoir and his 61 receptions are four behind the school's single-season record held by his brother.
"'Jhop' was a competitor who continued to fight throughout a season full of ups and downs," Browne said.
Brendan McKenna, River Hill, junior.
McKenna was all over the field for the Hawks this fall, as he returned kicks and played cornerback, but he made his biggest impact as a wide receiver.
The two-year starter had 56 receptions, second most in the county, for 525 yards and a score and carried the ball 53 times for 363 yards and three touchdowns.
"[He has] great hands and is a good route runner. He made big plays for us all year," said River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen. "He is able to make people miss and get yards after catch."
McKenna had his best game against Mt. Hebron, rushing for 143 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries, catching two passes for 48 yards, Also in that game against the Vikings, he made two tackles and intercepting a pass on defense.
"We are looking for him to be even more of a playmaker for us next season," Van Deusen said.
Mason Baker, Reservoir, senior.
One of two players to repeat as a first-team all-county selection on offense, Baker was dominant in the running game but added to his resume as the Gators' top receiving threat this year. He also played defensive end.
"Mason was an asset for us this season on both sides of the ball," said Reservoir coach Bryan Cole. "His dual abilities on offense as a blocking and receiving tight end were key to our success. He is a quality young man and I am excited to watch his football career continue."
Baker, who has received several high-level college offers but has not signed yet, finished the season with 21 receptions for 382 yards and four touchdowns. He caught at least one pass in every game. In a 46-28 win over Centennial, he had five receptions for 79 yards and two touchdowns.
Matt Burnstein, Howard, senior.
Lions coach Bruce Strunk referred to Burnstein, a two-year starter and team captain this season, as the "grunt" of an offensive line that led the way for a team that ran for more than 2,300 yards and won its third straight county and regional championship this year.
"Off the field, Matt led by example in the weight room and in the class room," Strunk said. "In the playoff game versus Bel Air, I remember Matt coming off the field yelling, 'Keep running behind me, I got 'em.' This attitude was developed by our line during the year and was led by our seniors, especially Matt."
Strunk said Burnstein will be remembered as one of the ultimate "team first" guys.
"Matt is a typical lineman," he said. "[He worked] hard, didn't complain and put the team before himself."
Andrew Chalfant, Howard, junior.
A two-year captain, Chalfant battled through injuries this season but continued to play at a high level.
"Andrew's first game this year was Week 3 versus River Hill (due to recovery from shoulder surgery). Most players would have been out a few more weeks, if not longer," Lions coach Bruce Strunk said. "But he insisted on being ready and was. That toughness defines Andrew."
Strunk added that Chalfant had "great respect" from his teammates because of his toughness and love of the team, and that when he spoke the team got quiet and listened.
Though he is just a junior, Strunk said his legacy is that he will work through anything and that nothing is bigger than the team.
Dakota Davis, Glenelg, senior.
It was hard not to see the dominance of Davis this fall, as the Gladiators ran time and time again behind him. The 6-foot-5-inch, 315-pound Syracuse University commit was always breaking through to the second level and knocking down linebackers and defensive backs.
"He is a three-year varsity starter and the team rushed for nearly 10,000 yards over that time," said Glenelg coach Butch Schaffer. "[He is a] tremendous leader and example on and off the field. A devastating drive blocker who finished blocks. ... A hardworking, blue collar, smash mouth football player."
Davis paved the way for two 2,000-yard running backs in Trey Davis and Wande Owens and will be regarded as one of the best lineman to come out of Howard County.
Trae Folkman, Glenelg, senior.
Folkman finished his career as a two-year varsity starter and Gladiators coach Butch Schaffer said he and Dakota Davis made up part of the best offensive line in school history. Like Davis, he made a knack for plowing down defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs to allow Glenelg to lead the county in rushing yards in each of the last two years.
"[Folkman is] extremely athletic and agile for a big man," Schaffer said. "A great drive blocker with a nasty streak who finished blocks. He is also a great technician who excelled in teaching our younger players."
Glenelg had two 2,000-yard rushers behind Folkman in each of his varsity seasons.
Spencer Willis, Long Reach, junior.
As the head coach's son, Willis held himself to a higher standard and became the leader of one of the best offensive lines in the county. Lightning coach Jamie Willis said Spencer "brought a level of toughness and physicality to our offensive and defensive lines" and that he was a player who "took pride in keeping the quarterback clean, opening up holes on the offensive line and trying to pancake defenders."
Spencer is one of numerous junior starters who will return for Long Reach.
"Next season we expect him to get better and be a leader for us not only on the field but off," Jamie Willis said. "I think the best is yet to come for him as he gets better with his technique."
Troy Hettinger, Marriotts Ridge, junior.
Hettinger almost single-handedly won several games for the Mustangs this fall with his right foot and hands. He made all five of his field goal attempts, including from distances of 30, 38 and 39 yards, and made 16 of 18 extra points.
Against Centennial, Hettinger broke his thumb in the second quarter but continued to play. He had the game-tying touchdown catch with 15 seconds remaining and his extra point gave Marriotts Ridge a 21-20 victory.
"Troy was a quiet, consistent performer who worked hard at his craft on a daily basis," said Mustangs coach Marcus Lewis. "Once he gained his confidence he was automatic from anywhere on the field as a kicker.
"He will be one of the better players on the team next year and one of the top place kickers in the state. I expect to see him kicking in college in the future."
TJ Lyles, Wilde Lake, senior.
Lyles was the true definition of an all-purpose player this season for the Wildecats, as he contributed heavily on offense, defense and special teams.
He was the starting quarterback and threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 586 yards and six scores on 101 carries. Defensively, he had 22 tackles, including four for loss.
"TJ Lyles is an athlete in every sense of the word. He was a presence in each phase of the football game for us this season," said Wilde Lake coach Michael Harrison. "His play was critical to our success each and every week."
Lyles had his best game of the season against Oakland Mills. Offensively, he ran for 64 yards and two scores and passed for 88 yards and two touchdowns, while on defense he made eight tackles. On special teams he blocked two extra-point attempts and a punt and returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown in a 35-25 win.
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"He had a role in every score we had that night," Harrison said.