When we last saw Old Mill football coach Pete Regala back in November, he stood among a crowd of reporters on the Patriots' home field, answering questions about the loss of his star running back.
We move ahead to a hot August practice, and Regala is hearing the same questions. Only this time, the circumstances have changed.
Strained ligaments in his right ankle kept William Beverly on thesidelines for the second half of Old Mill's 17-7 defeat to Thomas Wootton of Montgomery County in the 4A state quarterfinals.
Graduation is keeping him from Friday's season-opener at LaPlata.
"We've got a couple kids who I think can fill in there," Regala said. "We're not hurting at running back."
He'll be forced to defend that remark over and over until his team proves him right. And that's a tall order for the defending region champions to fill.
Beverly, who movedon to Butler County Community College in Kansas, accounted for 1,663all-purpose yards and 20 touchdowns. He was a marvel whenever he touched the ball, whether as a running back, kick returner or defensive back.
And still, Regala insisted, "We're not hurting at running back."
He might be right.
Senior Harold Peters, who gained nearly500 yards last season, leads a deep corps of returnees. And Rocky McMillan joins two other members of Old Mill's county-champion 400-meter relay team -- Rufus Beard and Derric Johnson -- to give the Patriots plenty of speed in the backfield.
Johnson only stands 5 foot 2, but on the first day of practice -- on wet grass -- he ran the 40-yard -- in 4.4 seconds.
"Very small man," Regala said, "but a big heart."
And fast feet.
"Right now, we're in good shape, as far as running backs go," Regala said. "Our unproven position is quarterback. We don't have a game-ready quarterback yet."
Not after Eric Scott graduated. But Regala says the Patriots have "a couple good prospects" in seniors Tim Newby and Chris Yurwitz and junior Brian Jones.
Jones served as Scott's back-up last year. Newby was a starting receiver and "knows the passing game," Regala said. Yurwitz is a newcomerto the varsity.
The offensive line, despite the loss of All-Metroguard Brian Evans, remains in good shape. But the defensive line wasan early concern of the coaching staff.
"We've got our linebackers returning, we've got our corners returning, we've just got to fill some gaps on the line," said defensive coordinator Mike Marcus. "If we can get those filled, we think we can be pretty tough on that side of the ball."
The staff had 131 players turn out for the first dayof practice, compared to 75 last year. The effects of two straight winning seasons, and a first-ever state playoff berth last year, are noticeable.
But will the good times continue, especially in the intensely competitive 4A League, where the Patriots' only loss last season was at Severna Park?
Much is expected of Old Mill, "but our players have high expectations, too," Regala said. "You can tell by the work ethic. They're there for business. They want to win and they want to have fun. Part of having fun is winning."
And a result of past success is added pressure the following season.
"There's always pressure when you want to win," Regala said, "and when you're a winner, people will be coming after us. But what can I say? We'll be ready. We'll be there."
. . . in brief
School nickname: Patriots
School colors: Red, white and blue
Name of field/stadium:Bob Goliday Memorial Field
Address: 600 Old Mill Road, Millersville, Md. 21108
Phone number: 969-9010
Principal: Mary Gable
Athletic director: Jim Dillon
Cheerleading adviser: Tina Simms
Marching band director: William Sellway
School enrollment: 2,117