The Laurel High football team, after a record of 7-3 in 2017, slipped to 4-6 last season.
“We took a step back,” admitted Michael Mayo, the head coach of the Spartans.
That came after Laurel went from 1-9 in the first year under Mayo in 2016 to that six-game improvement the following year.
Mayo, getting ready for his fourth season at the school, hopes for a similar bounce-back campaign this year.
The Spartans will begin regular-season play at home on Cherry Lane on Sept. 7 against DuVal.
“It is a heavy junior class,” Mayo said of Laurel. “They were pretty successful last year on the junior varsity. They had a lot of experience playing. We have some seniors but the majority of the [key players] are juniors.”
The first half of the season will be a challenge for Laurel, which will face most of the top teams in the Prince George’s County Class 4A league.
Mayo said the teams to beat in the county are the usual suspects in Flowers, Wise, Eleanor Roosevelt and Suitland.
Laurel plays at Wise in week two, hosts Flowers in week three and is at Suitland in week four.
“I think it will be more competitive in the middle of the standings,” said Mayo, who led Forestville to the Maryland 1A state title nearly 20 years ago. “We don’t have the numbers [of players] that other schools have.”
Mayo, with about 35 varsity players, also coached at Flowers and led the program to the postseason in 12 of 15 years at the school.
He is now trying to rebuild the Laurel program, which returns six starters on offense and eight on defense. Some of his top players start on both sides of the ball.
But Laurel doesn’t return a starting quarterback — a position that has been a challenge the past few years.
“That is the problem. We have a couple of kids who are going to vie for that position,” Mayo said. That includes a pair of seniors: Nathan Suber and Delano Pierre.
The key returning players for Laurel this season on offense are senior Jaheem Williams, a running back and wideout; senior Eric Washington, a wideout and tight end; senior Devonte Cumberbatch, a running back; junior Dabeluoki Okigbo, an offensive tackle; junior Kory Estep, an offensive tackle; and junior Samuel Adu, a guard.
“Jaheem is probably our most impressive player,” Mayo said. “He plays corner and does a good job there. We try to move him around. We want him to be more of a leader since he has been playing since his freshman year. I tell him you have to lead by example.”
Top defensive players are senior defensive backs Williams, and Markus Smith and Cumberbatch, a linebacker who had a team-high 90 tackles last season.
Seniors Devonne Powell and Washington and juniors Dennis Gresham-Chappelle are key linebackers and juniors McKale Coates and Okigbo are mainstays on the defensive line.
Cumberbatch was impressive last year on defense.
“He was like a missile,” Mayo said. “We put him on the other side of the ball and he was good in the middle at linebacker. He has drawn attention from college coaches. He plays like a college player. He is a nice kid; he loves to hit.”
Gresham-Chappelle began playing last year as a sophomore. “We have seen tremendous growth,” Mayo said.
Roski is with Maryland
Laurel resident Zack Roski is a tight end with the University of Maryland, which hosts Howard at noon Saturday in the football opener for both teams.
Roski led St. Vincent Pallotti High of Laurel with six touchdowns as a senior when he played for former head coach Ian Thomas, a former standout at DeMatha Catholic High in Hyattsville.
Roski’s father, Mark, played basketball at Winthrop. He is studying criminal justice at Maryland.
Laurel products with Gannon
The roster of Division II Gannon in Pennsylvania includes Laurel High graduate Joseph Loiseau, a redshirt freshman defensive lineman. He had 31 tackles, seven sacks and four fumble recoveries as a senior in high school.
Another member of the team is Laurel resident Jeremy Mensah, a redshirt freshman defensive lineman. He played in high school at Riverdale Baptist in Upper Marlboro.