Before “Wande was Wande,” Sam Alsheimer remembers a time when his Glenelg teammate Wande Owens wasn’t the best player on the field. It’s almost impossible to imagine now, he says, but Howard County’s all-time leading rusher was the No. 2 running back behind Marriotts Ridge’s Robinson Davis when they played for the same Warhawks team in middle school.
“No offense to Wande and he would probably say the same thing, but back then Robinson was way better,” said Alsheimer, “which is crazy. He was good but he wasn’t a standout.”
Gladiators coach Butch Schaffer has known Owens since he was 5 or 6 years old and has seen him steadily develop into the league’s most dangerous player on the field and an excellent student off it.
And now that Owens, as a senior this fall, is the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier football Offensive Player of the Year for the second time in three years — joining River Hill’s Michael Campanaro as the only players to earn the distinction twice — and capped his career as statistically the greatest running back in county history, Schaffer agrees that it’s hard to imagine someone ahead of him on the depth chart.
“It just goes to show what a little hard work and determination and desire and heart does for someone,” Schaffer said. “The stuff that he did is just amazing. To get to witness it and see it all is just special.”
Everybody who talks about the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Owens uses that same word over and over: special. His acceleration and speed are special. His ability to miss tackles is special. His weighted 4.57 GPA is special and is one of the reasons he has committed to play at Yale University, a prestigious Ivy League school.
“Our brains will take us further than our legs,” said Owens, who had two B’s as a freshman but only A’s since.
His numbers, however right or wrong, is what makes Owens special to those who don’t know him personally. They are incomparable for a Howard County running back — both for this season and his career.
He averaged nearly nine yards on each of his 301 carries this fall to finish with 2,687 yards, which broke his own single-season rushing record that he set two years ago (2,504) and was 1,505 yards more than any other player in the league this year.
He had at least one touchdown in all 14 games and scored 40 times on the ground, which led the county by 25 and was nine more than the previous county record of 31 that Wilde Lake’s Raphael Wall had in 1990.
Owens had eight 200-yard rushing games, including the five best single-game totals in the league this season. Only five other players — Howard’s Devin Dawkins (228 yards), Marriotts Ridge’s Kameron Young (215), River Hill’s Jordan Perry (215), Mt. Hebron’s Jalen Johnson (214) and Atholton’s Melvin Brown (205) — had 200 yards in a game this season, and none did more than once.
He also caught a touchdown pass, threw another on his only pass attempt, and as the team’s starting safety he intercepted three passes, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
“During this year when we had the [Howard County single-season rushing] record countdown, that’s when I kind of let it marinate. Like, wow, I’ve really been able to rush for this many yards,” Owens said. “But for me it was game by game. A game with 200 yards and couple touchdowns is just another day at the office. I don’t try to sit on a cloud after a really good game. I just try to come back and do it again the next week.”
Owens’ career rushing totals are even more impressive despite missing four games with a fractured leg in Week 1 of his junior season that never full healed until the offseason. He surpassed Wall’s career total of 5,095 yards to become Howard County’s career rushing king and is one of two players in Maryland high school football history to run for more than 6,000 yards, as he ended his career with 6,361 and 81 touchdowns on 867 carries in 38 games. He trails only Dunbar’s Tavon Austin, who had 7,962 yards from 2005 to 2008.
Even Owens admits the yards are “ridiculous.”
“It’s quite an honor to be able to have played that well for this long for such a great program,” he said. “It’s a great feeling to be able to look back on a career that’s been one of the more successful careers in Howard County history. I’m just thankful for the opportunity and how it went and to be able to come off the field here healthy.”
Alsheimer, who is the Howard County Defensive Player of the Year, also blocked for Owens this season as the team’s fullback. It was never any secret that Glenelg was going to run the ball over and over — quarterback Tyler Reiff averaged fewer than four passes per game — which Alsheimer said made Owens’ achievements even more spectacular. Alsheimer and the offensive line made blocking for Owens often look easy even it if wasn’t.
“You see a play and it seems like it has a chance, and then something kind of collapses and there’s a missed block or something, which is normal, and then Wande trucks that guy, jukes the next guy, puts the next guy on his ass and he’s down the sideline and beats the safety,” Alsheimer said. “Like, how did he do that? Somebody else gets the ball and they would get like three yards right there and he goes to the house. His acceleration is just crazy. ... I don’t know how he does it.”
One such play came in one of Glenelg’s most crucial moments. The Gladiators had crushed their first seven opponents, but rival River Hill trailed by just six points with less than four minutes remaining in regulation and had Glenelg pinned at its own 6-yard line. Owens, who had already scored on a 69-yard run on his first carry of the game and set the single-season county rushing record in the first quarter, took his final touch of the game untouched for a 94-yard touchdown run to seal a 12-0 victory.
“I love hearing that noise when you break free in the open field,” Owens said. “You hear the crowd going nuts in the background. I love that. It’s one of those special moments that I’m definitely going to miss here at Glenelg.”
Against Howard in Week 2, Owens displayed the exact type of athleticism that Yale sees in him as a future Division-I defensive back. The Lions were driving midway through the opening quarter when Owens jumped a pass and returned the interception 95 yards for a score. He would finish the contest with 199 yards rushing and scored on runs of 13, 82 and 72 yards in a 42-14 victory.
Owens dominated in the regular season and didn’t slow down in the playoffs. He had 245 yards and four touchdowns on the ground and returned another interception for a touchdown in a 35-0 playoff win versus Oakland Mills. He added three more scores and 229 yards in a postseason rematch with River Hill, and his 156 rushing yards against New Town in the 2A state semifinals helped the Gladiators reach the state championship game for the first time.
There, however, Glenelg’s undefeated streak came to an end against a powerful Oakdale team that featured multiple Division-I standouts. Still, Owens did his part by the way of 110 rushing yards and a touchdown and intercepting a pass in the end zone to keep the Gladiators in front for much of the first half.
All the while, Schaffer said Owens was as humble as can be. He never sought the spotlight or special treatment and in every postgame interview he praised his offensive line every chance he could.
“He never once mentioned anything yards or records or anything. The only difference was that I was a little more nervous about it than him. I wanted to see him achieve those goals,” Schaffer said. “I’m so proud of him for everything that he’s done. He’s the ultimate team player. There were plenty of games where we could’ve kept him in longer and we didn’t. Most of the games he didn’t play in the fourth quarter. ... He’s selfless.”
As for his legacy, Owens will go down as one of the greatest players in Howard County history. But Owens said he hopes to be remembered for more than what he did on the field.
“I think I was a good football player on the field, but I try to be humble and be an example off the field,” he said. “Coming into this year, I knew a lot of eyes were on me, especially after I committed to a school like Yale, so I always tried to be smart on and off the field.”
“The stuff that he has done is amazing,” Schaffer said. “Twenty years from now we’ll be sitting on the couch when someone else gets near his records. I said it at our banquet: I’ll always remember what he did.”
Also named to the first-team All-County offense:
Kai Castle, Oakland Mills, junior
A backup last season, Castle took the reins this year and immediately became the Scorpions’ top offensive weapon. The dual-threat quarterback threw for a county-high 1,154 yards with 14 touchdowns and ran for 971 yards and 13 scores on 204 carries despite opposing teams focusing on shutting him down.
“He routinely had games with more carries than the running back on either team and still was able to throw the ball effectively,” coach Tom Browne said.
Castle had a season-high 192 yards and four touchdown passes against Mt. Hebron, and against Reservoir he had 29 carries for 176 yards and three scores. Browne said he is a leader in the weight room and expects big things from him as a senior.
Melvin Brown, Atholton, senior
Brown had 933 yards rushing last season and improved on those totals this fall, finishing with 1,182 yards and 15 touchdowns — both second-most in the league — on 180 carries. He had five games with more than 100 yards, including a season-high 205 and four scores against Hammond. Brown had 25 carries for 187 yards and two touchdowns against Reservoir and scored the game-winning score on the first play in overtime.
“Melvin led by example in the weight room and in practice,” coach Justin Carey said. “He’s just an absolute bruiser of a runner. He’s the most physical running back I have ever coached.”
Brown is considering several Division-II schools.
Devin Dawkins, Howard, senior
Dawkins, the reigning Howard County Offensive Player of the Year, capped his career this fall with a school record 5,539 all-purpose yards. He had 1,073 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on 154 carries — good for nearly seven yards per carry — and had five 100-yard rushing performances, including 228 in a season-opening win against Oakland Mills. He also caught eight passes for 166 yards and two scores.
“Devin’s quickness, vision and balance made him the most dangerous player on the field with the ball in his hands,” coach Ross Hannon said. “He’s a dynamic player who could go the distance from anywhere on the field.”
Marcus Pendleton, Reservoir, senior
Pendleton was a team captain and started at safety and running back this season for the Gators. He averaged nearly seven yards per carry and ran for 819 yards and nine touchowns on 120 carries in nine games, and on defense he accumulated 52 tackles.
He had three games with more than 100 yards rushing and had a season-high 182 yards and three touchdowns against Hammond. Pendleton’s best game came in Week 2 against River Hill when he had 171 yards and two scores on 14 carries.
“That was a big one for Marcus,” coach Bryan Cole said. “He scored two long touchdowns and made a ton of tackles on defense. He set the tone for our win that day.”
Kameron Young, Marriotts Ridge, sophomore
Young is one of the best underclassmen in the county on either side of the ball. He was the Mustangs’ “most explosive player,” coach Marcus Lewis said, and despite missing four-plus games he finished with 826 yards and 12 touchdowns on 115 carries.
Young, who had 516 yards rushing as a freshman, had a two-game stretch against Centennial and Hammond early in the season where he had 377 yards and eight touchdowns on just 29 carries. He returned from injury to run for 251 yards in the final two games of the season and scored 72 of the Marriotts Ridge’s 167 points.
Drew Sotka, Glenelg, junior
Sotka is a two-year starter who played all over the field for the Gladiators. He was an extension of an offensive line that paved the way for Wande Owens and company, but he could also stretch the field. He led the team with 160 yards receiving and four touchdowns on just six receptions.
“Drew is a great blocker who made big plays when called upon in the passing game,” coach Butch Schaffer said. “He will be a key to Glenelg’s success next season on both sides of the ball. He’s also a great leader on and off the field.”
Spencer Brockdorff, River Hill, senior
After graduating many of its top playmakers from the 2017 season, Brockdorff stepped right in and gave the Hawks a dynamic threat in the passing game. The two-year starter and team captain had at least one catch in every game and a season-best nine catches for 126 yards against Glenelg in the regular season. He finished the year with 39 receptions for 666 yards and seven touchdowns.
Brockdorff also started at linebacker and had 10 tackles, two interceptions, a sack and a forced fumble in a shutout win versus Oakland Mills. He had 102 total tackles on the season, the second-most on the team.
“Spencer is a leader on and off the field. He has a great work ethic and is a good role model for the younger players,” coach Brian Van Deusen said. “He has great football knowledge and is a playmaker. He stepped up and made big plays in the big games.”
Luis Gooden Jr., Long Reach, senior
Gooden Jr. was the leader of one of the best wide receiver corps in the area and finished the season second in the league with 44 receptions for 721 yards to go with five touchdowns. He was voted a team captain by his teammates and had a worth ethic “second to none on the team,” coach Jamie Willis said, who called Gooden Jr. “Mr. Reliable.”
He had a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Howard and a 59-yard touchdown catch against River Hill. Against Wilde Lake, Gooden Jr. had three catches for 93 yards and a score.
“That was in a game in which we struggled offensively,” Willis said. “He came up big and scored the game-winning touchdown in a hard-fought win.”
Chris Martin Jr., Long Reach, sophomore
To say Martin Jr. had a breakout season would be an understatement. The sophomore led the county in receptions (50), receiving yards (751) and touchdowns (nine) and had three multi-touchdown games.
“Chris represents part of the new nucleus of Long Reach football,” coach Jamie Willis said. “He is pound-for-pound one of the most talented players in the county and displayed a solid work ethic with the willingness to learn and grow.”
Martin Jr. had some of his best games against some of the best teams. He caught six balls for 180 yards and two scores against Glenelg, including a 57-yard touchdown in which he leaped over a defensive back and outran the defender to the end zone, and had 12 receptions for 117 yards in the Lightning’s playoff loss to J.M. Bennett.
Trent Baker, Reservoir, senior
Baker is the first Reservoir lineman to be named first-team All-County twice and was a leader on the offensive and defensive line. He is a three-year varsity starter who the Gators consistently ran behind.
“He had fight and intensity and won his battles,” coach Bryan Cole said. “On defense we put him in the middle of the defense and two-gaped at times, which allowed us some flexibility in scheme. ... Trent was a consistent player for us in practice and training. We always knew what to expect. We could always depend on him to be consistent.”
On defense, Baker finished top-five in the county and led the team with seven and a half sacks. He has an offer from Fairmont State, a Division-II school, and interest from other schools.
Ben Burnstein, Howard, senior
A two-year varsity player, Burnstein anchored the Lions’ offensive line this season. He never missed a game and at 6-foot-2, 270 pounds displayed “extraordinary quickness to reach the second level,” coach Ross Hannon said. Burnstein was also the long snapper on extra points and plays baseball and hockey at Howard.
“If we needed a yard to move the chains, we ran behind Ben,” Hannon said.
Kevin Brown, Atholton, senior
Brown was a successful two-way player who helped All-County running back Melvin Brown run for more than 2,000 yards over the last two seasons. Coach Justin Carey said Brown brought consistency with his approach and worth ethic and preparation and was someone his peers looked up to. On defense this season, Brown had 11 tackles from his defensive end/nose tackle position against Wilde Lake.
“What made Kevin successful is his non-stop motor,” Carey said.
Brown is committed to the Maryland Prep Football Academy, which is a post-graduate football program for students that enroll at Howard Community College.
Ernie Smith, Oakland Mills, senior
Smith is a three-year varsity player who has played every offensive line position during his career but excelled at tackle this fall. He could pull on counter runs and effectively down block on defensive tackles, but he was even better on the defensive line and finished with 10 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. He had two sacks on the final two plays in a 14-12 win at Wilde Lake to help the Scorpions earn a playoff berth.
“He was the anchor of our defensive line,” coach Tom Browne said. “Other teams in the county routinely ran away from him.”
Smith is also an All-County wrestler who placed second and third at the county tournament the last two seasons.
Otto Trawick, Glenelg, senior
Seemingly every time Howard County Offensive Player of the Year Wande Owens went streaking down the field for a touchdown, it was Trawick who opened the hole. The two-year starter helped develop chemistry on the offensive line and was the unit’s leader, according to coach Butch Schaffer.
“Otto brought his lunch pail every day,” he said. “He’s a tireless worker that played on both sides of the ball. He dominated on the line of scrimmage and was dedicated and committed to the weight room.”
Robinson Davis, Marriotts Ridge, senior
Davis is a three-year varsity starter and this season was a team captain. He was selected to the Baltimore Touchdown Club All-Star game and the Maryland Crab Bowl after doing a little bit of everything for the Mustangs. He completed four passes, ran for 406 yards and five touchdowns on 77 carries, caught 11 passes for 100 yards and had two interceptions — including a pick-six — and 46 tackles on defense.
Davis was selected Marriotts Ridge’s team MVP.
Elywn Yount, Wilde Lake, senior
Yount gave football a try after playing for the Wildecats’ soccer team and had an immediate impact on kickoffs, field goals and extra points. He started eight games and made three of his six field goal attempts, including a 43-yarder against Hammond, and made 16 of his 18 extra points. Yount also had several touchbacks on kickoffs. In a downpour at Glenelg, he booted a kickoff into the end zone from the 30-yard line after a penalty.
“Elywn has a great work ethic,” coach Michael Harrison said. “Every day he and Sam Nason would spend the entire practice working to perfect their kicking, most of the time independently.”
Yount is considering kicking in college.
Jose Ribalta, Long Reach, junior, quarterback
Allen Ngue, Wilde Lake, sophomore, running back
Jordan Perry, River Hill, junior, running back
Julius Saunders, Long Reach, freshman, running back
Christian Byrd, Reservoir, senior, tight end
Aidan O’Connor, Howard, senior, wide receiver
Kobe Hill, Mt. Hebron, senior, wide receiver
Loick Armouzou, Hammond, junior, wide receiver
Mayowa Ajimatanrareje, Long Reach, senior, offensive line
Jack Island, River Hill, senior, offensive line
Anthony Morales, Oakland Mills, senior, offensive line
Kevin Pak, Glenelg, sophomore, offensive line
Doug Roderus, Howard, senior, offensive line
Deon Breland, Oakland Mills, senior, all-purpose
Amari Hutson, Wilde Lake, sophomore, all-purpose
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Chris Retzbach, Glenelg, junior, kicker