At last, Archbishop Spalding's football team will begin its season out from under the cloud of a winless streak.
The Cavaliers shook a lineman-sized monkey off their backs last October when they defeated Southwestern of Baltimore, 13-12, to end a 27-game winless streak.
They then salvaged a second victory on Nov. 2, squeezing by Baltimore's Archbishop Curley, 7-6.
This season, under the leadership of first-year coach Del Hughes, the Cavaliers are pleased to be out of the negative spotlight and are ready to improve on last year's 2-8 mark.
"We want to win just like everyone else, and we've worked hard to do that," said wide receiver Jeff Paxson. "We have what it takes to score some points."
Senior signal-caller Chris Lucas returns at the offensive helm, surrounded by a cast of familiar faces.
Dan Wolf, who has captained the Cavaliers since his sophomore year when he set school records for all-purpose yards in a single season and career receptions, will line up as fullback out of the multiple-wing formations, while also lurking in Spalding's veteran secondary.
Paxson, a speedy senior, should emerge as Lucas' favorite target, but with 6-foot-6 Rich Reilly running pass routes, Lucas will have a big alternative when he settles in the pocket.
Rounding out Spalding's receiving corps is senior wide receiver Jamie Garvins.
Senior Scott Mattison and junior Andre Matthews complete the Cavaliers' backfield and provide Lucas with two more options on pass plays. Hughes said both running backs have soft hands and the "speed to break the long one."
"We're going to put the ball in the air more so than in the past," said Hughes, who replaces Greg Fuhrman, who resigned after two seasons and a 2-17-1 overall record. "Chris has been throwing the ball real well and the receivers are coming along nicely."
Providing protection for Lucas and holes for the backs to run through is an offensive line anchored by Alexis Baltins, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound two-way tackle. Joining Baltins in the trenches are fellow seniors Tim Alber (guard), John Donohue (center), Mike Tetieppe (tackle), Dennis Fohner (guard) and junior transfer Steve Windsor (guard).
Hughes, who has coached in several programs throughout the county including Northeast, Arundel, Meade, Annapolis, and most recently, North County, admits that he is a bit concerned about his team's size on defense, but hopes that he can minimize that shortcoming by keeping opposing offensive lines guessing.
"We don't have a lot of size on defense, so we'll try and change things up on the line and confuse the blocking," said Hughes, who has implemented a seven-man front. "We have to be smart."
Hughes, a substitute teacher at Meade, has been overly impressed -- and his throat thankful -- for his team's ability to adapt.
"This is the first season I haven't been hoarse," said Hughes. "Usually, this time of year I don't have a voice left from all the screaming, but this year has been different. The guys are very enthusiastic and they pick things up very quickly. I don't have to tell them to do anything twice.
"They don't just go through the motions. They take a lot of pride in what they are doing and they want to be successful. You would think a team that has struggled as long as they have would be vindictive, but they're not. It's an ongoing challenge for them to win and they all accept that challenge."