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'Wrong way' Casella redirects Wildecats


It was during a practice three years ago that Wilde Lake football coach Doug DuVall, frustrated by a scout team player who couldn't learn his assignment, flung his clipboard into the air. Papers went flying and the clipboard just missed the knuckleheaded player when it came down.

To commemorate their coach's momentary loss of composure and their teammate's contribution to the display, the next day the team presented DuVall with a gold-painted clipboard with wings attached. Henceforth a gag award, known as the Gold Clipboard, has been given for the most boneheaded play of the (( year. The recipient the past two years has been starting fullback/linebacker Ben Casella.

"Last year I ran the wrong way on a play because I was so excited," Casella said. "This year, I ran into a pulling tackle."

But if Casella retires that trophy or it's renamed in his honor, at least he's picking up some more serious awards, too. After Casella intercepted a second-half Damascus pass to stop a drive and recovered an overtime fumble to set up the Wildecats' 13-7 win in the state 2A championship game Friday night, DuVall gave him his due.

"If I had to pick an MVP in the game," said DuVall, "it would be him. And he's going to get our Unsung Hero award at the team banquet Tuesday night."

The 5-foot-10, 190-pound senior, who moved here from Mansfield, Pa., just before his sophomore year, also punted for a 38-yard average this season. He's a throwback to the type of player who does everything without flashiness, works hard and appreciates whatever comes his way.

"It means a lot," Casella said of the Unsung Hero award. "Just coming here to play under Coach DuVall is a privilege. It's all paid off."

Saturday morning, just hours after the No. 4-ranked Wildecats (13-0) celebrated their championship on the South Carroll field, Casella was taking the SATs for the first time. Also a wrestler and lefthanded pitcher/outfielder for the Wildecats, Casella, a solid student, is starting to think about college. "I'd love to play football or baseball in college, but I'd like to get an education." he said. DuVall said several small schools are interested.

Though he works about 25 hours a week at a local pizza place, he found time Saturday night to watch a tape of the Wildecats' big win with several teammates. Senior wide receiver Oba McMillan was there and said, "Watching the tape, you could see what a great game Ben had."

McMillan could get the team award for most unusual name. His father, Bob, and his mother, Audrey, combined letters from their names to form Oba (it's pronounced Ah'-buh). Then they found out it means "king" in Swahili. No surprise then that McMillan runs his pass patterns with royal command and blocks like the palace guard.

The double coverage he drew all season helped open up Wilde Lake's running game. Still, with but 11 catches during the regular season, he was remarkably effective, gaining 350 yards (31.8 average) and scoring seven touchdowns and three two-point conversions.

A unanimous all-Howard County choice by county coaches, the diminutive McMillan (5-8, 139 -- though DuVall swears he weighs just 128) is king of the classroom, too. With a 4.0 average and 1,270 SAT score (as a junior), he's gotten calls from coaches at Yale, Brown, Columbia, Penn and Johns Hopkins. He wants to study engineering. "I'd like to find new ways to improve the quality of life," he said.

DuVall thinks he's already helped the quality of life at Wilde Lake. "He's such a classy kid, such character, and that rubs off on some of the kids who need it."

Friday's victory brought throngs of well-wishers onto the playing field. "I saw one of the kids from 18 years ago," said DuVall, who also coached the Wildecats to the state title in 1985. "There's a good sense of tradition here."

That wasn't lost on McMillan. "I'm sure the championship makes a lot of people proud and happy for us," he said.

Now, the King and the Clipboard have added to the legacy.

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