When Brad Best took over the controls of the St. Mary's football team four years ago he introduced the Saints to what was then a new offensive idea -- the run-and-shoot.
Best envisioned taking his team to new heights with the pass-oriented attack, but a shifty sophomore running back named Joe Conte left Best no other choice but to keep the ball on the ground.
"In the past, we haven't been your typical run-and-shoot kind of team, but this year, we're looking to throw a lot more," said Best, whose team finished second in the Maryland Scholastic Association C Conference last year behind co-champions Severn and St. Paul's.
"We've run the ball a little more than you would expect from that type of offense, but that's because of what we've had in the backfield."
With Conte no longer a mainstay in the backfield, the Saints, led by senior quarterback Steve Schummer, will attempt to put the "shoot" back into their run-and-shoot offense.
While Best concedes that he will miss Conte and the 30 touchdowns and 2,500-plus yards he produced over three seasons, Best also believes with his departure comes added balance and hopefully, added victories.
"Steve has a good, strong arm and he reads defenses well," said Best, who used Schummer sparingly at quarterback last season as a back-up for starter Adam Hrebiniak. "He also runs the option well, and he's a good leader, too. Even when he ran the scout team last year he would take charge."
With a non-conference schedule that includes MSA A Conference power Calvert Hall and county rival South River, Schummer realizes he will be tested early, but he is confident in his ability and welcomes the challenge.
"This is a great offense to be a quarterback in," said Schummer, 6-foot, 170 pounds. "Last year we had Conte, so it was natural to give it to him a lot. This year Coach Best tells me I'll have a chance to throw the ball more, so I'm excited about that.
"Our line has been doing a good job, and I think if we can stay healthy we've got a good shot at winning the championship."
Best has seen the parity that exists in the C Conference and is more reluctant to make any lofty prognostications. What he will go out on a limb to say is that his team won't lose because of lack of speed.
"It's hard to predict how we'll do in the way of wins and losses because we have such a tough non-conference schedule," said Best. "We don't have the big Adam-Funk type guys [6-foot-6, 280 pounds] that we've had in the past, but across the board, we have good size for our conference.
"One thing we do have is total team speed, and that includes the guys on the line of scrimmage."
Seniors Joe Greenlee and Ed Zelzin will bolster St. Mary's line on both sides of the ball. Greenlee, a 6-4, 225-pounder will be a two-way tackle for the Saints while Zelzin, 6-1, 205 pounds, will play offensive guard and be "somewhere along the line" in the Saints' wide-tackle-six defensive scheme.
Dwen Lim (6-1, 285 pounds) and Jaques Keller (6-2, 215 pounds) will join Greenlee and Zelzin on the offensive line while 6-foot, 205-pound junior Greg Carobrese gives the Saints added speed in the defensive trenches.
"Our defense is in good shape and that will be our strength this season. We plan on blitzing a lot," said Best. "Our offense is mostly seniors and a lot of them have been in the program for four years, but they don't have a lot of game experience. At least not yet."