Who says you can't please everyone? Coach Terry Ward's football teams have been doing it at Overlea High for the past three years.
"We've been so successful around here, I think that fans are getting spoiled," said Ward, who enters his fourth season with a 31-4 record, with his team reaching the playoffs each year.
As the Falcons have risen, however, so have expectations. They now have to contend with trying to meet those expectations. But senior defensive back Lonnie Means wants to assure Overlea supporters that the Falcons don't plan on letting them down this season.
"If we come out to play, we should win, I guarantee you that," said Means, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound athlete who last year had three interceptions in a win over Towson.
"It'll be about how much heart we're willing to show, how fast we can learn and how much we're willing to put out," Means added. "As long as we can hit, wrap and tackle, we can go a long way."
Last year's squad went farther than any in Ward's tenure. It completed the 1991 season ranked No. 4 in the Baltimore Sun poll and was 11-0 before losing, 17-7, in the semifinals to eventual Class 2A state runner-up Middletown.
"Everything just seemed to fall into place last year," said Ward, whose Falcons began practicing Saturday. "We had very few injuries and some individuals who had great success. I think that's what really made the difference."
The team's star player, 6-6, 225-pound Bernard Hopkins, who graduated, had 12 catches for 287 yards and five touchdowns, as well as first-team, All-Metro honors.
Another first-team, All-Metro performer was running back Tyrese Barmer, who returns as a senior this year. Called "a slashing runner with great quickness" by Ward, the 5-8, 160-pound Barmer led the area in rushing with 1,664 yards and 18 touchdowns, and had 15 two-point conversion runs.
"I expect that people will try to crack down on me more this year, knowing they'll need to shut the running game down," said Barmer, 16. "But I think the passing attack is a big question right now. That's going to be the extra step we'll need to get everything in sync."
Two more Falcons were chosen honorable mention All-Metro, including third-year starting quarterback Bernard Fitchette, a 5-8, 155-pound junior who passed for 332 yards and six touchdowns. He rushed for 805 yards and 14 touchdowns.
"We're going to be under a lot of pressure to win this year simply because people expect us to," said Ward. "And then you've got a lot of teams that are going to want to knock us off. We're going to have togrow up pretty quickly."
Especially on defense, where seven starters graduated.
"Last year, our defense was very aggressive and fundamentally sound," said Ward. "But this year, we're going to have to do a lot of [experimenting]."
For now, however, it appears that four players will shoulder the bulk of the defensive burden: Means, junior end Igwe Blount (6-1, 175), strong safety Phillip Brown (5-11, 170, Sr.) and his brother, corner back Danny Brown (5-11, 155, Jr.).
"I think our main concern is in the secondary and linebackers," said Means. "They're all gone, except for Phil and me."
While the defense gets organized, Ward expects Barmer and Fitchette to absorb most of the offensive pressure, with assistance from Phillip Brown, a fullback who averaged 4.3 yards per carry with six touchdowns.
"We've got quite a kid in Barmer, and I think Bernard's [Fitchette] a good passer, so we'll work with them on getting things loosened up," said Ward, whose Falcons operate from the multiple-set offense. "We're talented in all three of the skill positions, so I don't think people will be able to gang up on us too easily."
The Falcons also return some beef to the offensive line, including center Mike Knoedler (6-3, 255) and tackles James McHugh (6-2, 260) and Bill Brown (6-6, 300).
But the question is whether the Falcons can recover from the loss of an imposing presence like Hopkins, the key blocker for Barmer last year.
"He certainly was an intimidating figure, and as an opposing coach, you always had to be concerned about him," said Ward of Hopkins, also an All-Metro basketball player expected to play at Hagerstown Community College this winter.
"Bernard [Hopkins] was always a threat to catch the ball, and we're going to have to use some other things to make up for him."