After going unbeaten in the league and making two state playoff appearances in two years, C. Milton Wright's football players are finding that nobody expects anything less in 1992.
"No one lets you forget what happened the last couple of years," said senior split end Jesse Sostrin. "People talk about 10-0 again, but we're just looking to do the best we can."
In each of the past two years, the Mustangs have gone 10-0 during the regular season and won the Harford County championship. They have a combined overall record of 22-2 in those two years.
In 1990, they stunned even themselves by reaching the state Class 3A title game before falling to McDonough, 33-20. Last fall, they lost a heartbreaker to Douglass, 28-27, in a state quarterfinal game.
But most of the components that went into those winning seasons are gone. The Mustangs graduated 16 seniors. They return only one starter on offense and five on defense.
"This is a very young team," said head coach Steve Harward. "There's some experience, but they still have to mature."
Harward, who has been cautiously optimistic at the beginning of the past two seasons, won't make a prediction about this year's outcome. There's just not enough varsity experience -- especially on offense.
The entire starting line graduated. "That's been our forte offensively for the last two years," said Harward, "but with no starters back, we have a lot of questions there this year."
The rest of the coaches in the county, however, don't expect C. Milton Wright to drop out of the top spot. "They lost a lot of kids," said Fallston coach Dave Cesky. "But they also have a lot of kids from last year's varsity that'll be jumping right in their shoes. And they have one of the premier running backs in the area."
That back is senior Chris Gill, a tailback who led the county in rushing with 1,143 yards last year. A second-team All-Metro pick by The Baltimore Sun, Gill (6-2, 196) seems headed for another big year.
Gill won't have to shoulder the entire load, with the addition of junior running back Eric McEvoy, the latest in a long line of talented Mustangs' backs.
The key to the offense could be new quarterback Brad Fordyce. The junior started at linebacker last year, but if anyone knows the offense, he should. His father, Dick Fordyce, coaches the offense.
While Gill and McEvoy will be the prime cogs in the running game, Sostrin and tight end Matt Jenkins are the top receivers.
Even though no veterans return to the line, the new group has plenty of talent. Tackles Mike Sprouse (6-6, 260) and Ron Paden (6-0, 260) will anchor the line with guards Jarrett Francis and Don Behler at the guard spots and Roddy Hutchinson at center.
Defensively, the Mustangs return back Gill, center Sostrin, end Jenkins and linebackers Fordyce and Jason Tharpe.
The Mustangs know it won't be easy to win the county title again, but they are hoping for a repeat of the 1990 season. Harward figured his squad would peak in 1991, but the team surprised him by going all the way to the state title game a year earlier.
Last year, when everyone thought the Mustangs would go even further, they stumbled in the quarterfinals. Gill said that lesson should help the Mustangs.
"Last year, a lot of people thought it was just gonna happen and they didn't work hard. This year, the kids want it more," said Gill.
The Mustangs will rely on the veteran defense early while the offense comes together. But they will have to get ready quickly, because the schedule is not kind.
In two weeks, they meet Aberdeen. The Eagles lost some big talent too, but return more veterans than the Mustangs do.
.5l The Mustangs know the Eagles are out to take away the county title, but they expect to be ready.
"They have some of the same problems we do. They're a little inexperienced, a little green, but it's gonna be a great ball game. It could go down to the final seconds," said Sostrin.